WASHINGTON — The federal government is rushing to provide insurance protection for 500,000 depositors in 70 shut-down Ohio savings and loan associations, Gov. Richard F. Celeste said Tuesday. But he refused to say when the institutions might resume doing business.
The 70 privately insured associations have been closed since Friday and "I don't want to make any commitment as to when (they) will reopen," Celeste told reporters at a news conference here. Federal officials will make an "unprecedented, superhuman" effort to process applications from associations seeking safeguards under the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., Celeste said.
The federal agency maintains an insurance fund that guarantees deposits up to $100,000.
With an influx of federal examiners, the screening process should take "days rather than weeks," the Ohio governor said. He added that he hopes the extension of federal deposit insurance will calm panicky depositors throughout Ohio who began withdrawing large amounts of money last week.
Although Celeste expects all 70 associations to apply for federal insurance, only 12 formal applications and five letters of intent had been received by Tuesday, according to sources at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which regulates the industry.
The state-chartered institutions had not applied for federal insurance before because they were not legally required to do so and because they thought they were adequately protected by the privately financed state insurance fund.
Now, the federal bank board must determine whether the Ohio associations are financially secure enough to qualify for coverage under the federal insurance fund. Even with rapid review of the associations' financial records by federal officials, it seems unlikely that many of the institutions could reopen until next week at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Legislature was deadlocked Tuesday over Celeste's proposal to restore customer morale by mandating that all associations in Ohio have federal deposit insurance protection.
The Ohio House of Representatives has passed a bill containing such a mandate but the Senate is balking. Tuesday night, Celeste returned to Ohio to make another effort to persuade the legislators to endorse his program.
The state Senate did unanimously pass a bill and sent it to the House permitting the closed S&Ls to allow depositors to withdraw up to $750 a month until the situation returns to normal.
Only with federal insurance coverage will the associations' customers be convinced that their $4 billion in deposits is safe, Celeste believes. The deposits were covered by a private insurance fund, but confidence was shattered by the collapse and closure of Home State Savings Bank, the biggest institution involved in the private insurance fund.
The panic in Ohio has been restricted to institutions covered by the private fund. Federally chartered associations with the $100,000 deposit protection have continued to conduct normal business in Ohio locations.
Some of the federal institutions in Ohio have provided cash advances to people with accounts at the closed state associations.
"Many of these people don't have checking accounts--they deal in cash and depend on small withdrawals from the savings and loan to make their bills," said an industry official who asked not to be identified.
Celeste is committed to keeping the associations closed until the public is convinced that deposits are safe. Presumably, the healthy institutions will have little trouble qualifying quickly for federal coverage. Other weaker ones unable to meet federal standards may have to merge with financially sound firms.
In a meeting with Ohio's congressional delegation, Celeste stressed repeatedly that federal protection of deposits would provide the only solution to the crisis of confidence in Ohio.
Celeste met with Edwin Gray, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, and received assurances that the regulators would make herculean efforts to process applications from Ohio for deposit coverage. And Fed Chairman Paul A. Volcker promised that the Ohio associations would easily be able to get loans from the Federal Reserve when they are ready to reopen, Celeste said.
Ohio established a special new emergency fund of $50 million and the savings and loan industry added another $40 million. But even this additional $90 million, combined with the original $130 million in the privately financed state fund, was insufficient last week to calm the fears of uneasy depositors.