Financially strapped homeowners in need of mortgage relief are getting more time to take advantage of the federal government’s HAMP and HARP initiatives. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew recently announced that both programs are being extended for a second time — until December 31, 2016. Since its inception in April 2009, HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) has helped more than 3.1 million homeowners refinance their mortgages. The program is specifically set up to assist people whose homes have lost value, particularly those who owe more than their homes are worth — the so-called “underwater mortgages”. In the first quarter of 2014, HARP loans accounted for 23 percent of all refinanced mortgages. HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) is designed to help homeowners who cannot afford their current mortgages by arranging loan modifications. To date, the program has arranged more than 1.3 million permanent loan modifications. Both programs were initially slated to end on December 31, 2013. Last year the federal government announced a first extension through 2015. The announcement comes as foreclosures continue to decline. Total foreclosure activity in May fell to its lowest level since the boom days in 2005, according to online foreclosure tracking firm RealtyTrac. Michael Lewis is Managing Editor of member publications for the National Notary Association.