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WASHINGTON – The U.S. government said Monday that it has received $66.3 billion in dividend payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after both reported stronger earnings at the start of the year.

Fannie Mae has paid $59.4 billion to the U.S. Treasury, and Freddie Mac has paid $7 billion. The payments reflect a housing recovery that has made the mortgage giants profitable again. They are also helping to lower the year’s federal deficit.

The government rescued Fannie and Freddie during the 2008 financial crisis after both incurred massive losses on risky mortgages. The companies received two of the largest bailouts of the crisis.

So far, Fannie has repaid $95 billion of the roughly $116 billion it received, while Freddie has repaid roughly $37 billion of its $71.3 billion.

Under a federal policy adopted last summer, Fannie and Freddie must turn over their entire net worth above $3 billion in each quarter to the Treasury.

Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee nearly half of all U.S. mortgages and 90 percent of new ones. A better housing market means fewer delinquent loans on their books.

The companies are also charging mortgage lenders higher fees to guarantee the loans. With more loans and higher fees, Fannie and Freddie are earning more.

And the mortgage giants are taking on less risk than during the precrisis years. That’s because banks are requiring higher credit scores and larger down payments from prospective buyers.

A brighter outlook was a key reason Fannie decided this year was the right time to capitalize on the tax benefits of the bad loans it absorbed during the crisis. That helped boost Fannie’s profit in the January-March quarter and contributed to the large dividend.

The payments from Fannie and Freddie are helping to lower this year’s federal deficit. They have come in a year when a better economy has also boosted tax receipts.

The Congressional Budget Office projects this year’s deficit will total just $642 billion when the budget year ends Sept. 30. That would be the first time the budget gap has fallen below $1 trillion since 2008.