Steven Mnuchin testified to Congress in June on the Treasury Department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/CNP/Zuma Press

WASHINGTON—As Democrats and Republicans haggle over the next coronavirus-relief bill, a giant pot of money remains largely unused.

In March, Congress gave the Treasury Department  $454 billion to backstop aggressive new lending efforts by the Federal Reserve to distressed businesses and state and local governments. Five months later, more than half—$259 billion—is still uncommitted.

The Treasury money was billed as risk capital by Trump administration officials who said at the time that it could be leveraged to support as much as $4 trillion in lending by the Fed. As of last week, the central bank had lent just $16.4 billion through programs set up with the money.

“Here we are negotiating another fiscal package, and we have this money just sitting there,” said Ernie Tedeschi, a former Treasury official and economist at Evercore ISI.

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