Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve System, isn’t happy with the present pace of lending to America’s small businesses. He said so yesterday in remarks at a meeting on small business issues at the Chicago Fed’s branch in Detroit. Last year, according to Bernanke, only 40% of small businesses attempting to borrow in 2009 had all of their credit needs met. And, despite a gradual economic recovery, the picture has not improved. “Unfortunately, lending to small businesses has been declining,” Bernanke said. “Indeed, outstanding loans to small businesses dropped from almost $700 billion in the second quarter of 2008 to approximately $660 billion in the first quarter of 2010.” “An important but difficult-to-answer question is how much of this reduction has been driven by weaker demand for loans from small businesses and how much by restricted credit availability,” Bernanke said. He cited a finding by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) which says that just 8% of small businesses list access to credit as their principal immediate economic problem. Nevertheless, he called upon lenders to “do all they can to meet the legitimate needs of creditworthy borrowers” while maintaining appropriately prudent standards. Bernanke said that yesterday’s meeting was one of 40 such gatherings that the Fed is conducting across the country. Entitled Addressing the Financing Needs of Small Businesses, the series is intended to help the Federal Reserve and others respond effectively to the immediate and longer-term concerns of small businesses. On the same day as Bernanke’s speech, Bank of America Corp. announced it would increase its spending with small, medium-sized and “diverse” businesses by purchasing $10 billion in products and services from these companies over five years. Spending is expected to grow by an average of more than 5% each year. The announcement also mentioned progress in a recent pledge by the bank to increase lending to small and medium-sized businesses by $5 billion in 2010. In the first quarter of this year, the announcement said, the bank loaned $19.4 billion to small and medium-sized businesses, which was nearly $3 billion more than during the same period last year. The bank loaned $81.4 billion to small and medium-sized businesses in 2009.