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A special loan program catering for unemployed people has attracted just 3,700 borrowers since its launch in September 2001, falling well short of the 100,000 initially projected, welfare ministry officials said Thursday.

The program, launched by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, is designed to provide loans of up to 200,000 yen per month to people who have used up their unemployment benefits. The loans, with a rate of 3 percent, are provided for a maximum of one year.

Under the initial terms of the program, borrowers were required to repay a loan within five years, following a six-month grace period.

The ministry relaxed the terms late last year, extending the repayment period from five years to seven and reducing required monthly repayments.

The government set aside 100 billion yen for the loan program under an extra budget that was compiled in September 2001.

The total of outstanding loans stood at just 4.3 billion yen as of the end of January.

Ministry officials claimed that public awareness of the program is not widespread and that jobless individuals are usually reluctant to borrow.

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