) --

JPMorgan Chase

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is increasing its small business lending business and adding staff, according to a statement issued Tuesday.

The bank said it is committing $12 billion to small businesses this year, a 20 percent increase over last year. During the first quarter Chase lent small businesses less than $20 million.

"Small business owners are not only our neighbors but also the entrepreneurs that hire half of the employees in the United States. It's critical that we support small businesses as they continue to fuel the economic recovery across the country," said Michael Cleary, CEO of Business Banking in Retail Financial Services.

Chase has been ramping up its hiring in small business due to the demand for loans. The bank plans on hiring 250 small-business bankers this year, according to


Chase hired 450 small business bankers in 2010.

Banks such as Chase have been boosting small business lending since President Obama signed a bill in September

to provide $42 billion

in loan incentives and tax cuts for small-businesses.

Other banks that have been aggressive about writing small business loans include

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Wells Fargo

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CIT Group

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--Written by Maria Woehr in New York.

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