WASHINGTON - House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank is preparing a $35 billion housing package that would expand the government's role in combating the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

The package would call for $15 billion of government assistance to refinance distressed mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration and $20 billion to provide assistance to states and localities to repurchase foreclosed properties.

It would also call for legislation that would protect servicers that make certain loan modifications from lawsuits and expand housing counseling for struggling borrowers.

Details of Rep. Frank's plans were revealed in a release from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and a House Financial Services budget committee document circulated Tuesday. Rep. Pelosi's release said the legislation would be offered in March.

Rep. Frank first laid out broad concepts for his housing plan when he announced his committee agenda in January, and since then the Massachusetts Democrat's staff has been hashing out ideas and collecting input from industry groups, consumer organizations, and the Treasury Department.

The concept appears similar to one floated recently by Bank of America Corp. for the government to assist in purchasing and refinancing delinquent loans. In a Feb. 13 interview, Rep. Frank said he was in discussions with Bank of America about his proposal.

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