At first, the bailouts were only for major financial firms, but a souring economy has created an expanding list of potential recipients for policymakers to consider.

Assistance for automakers. New mortgage rescues targeted not at lenders but at struggling homeowners. Aid for cities and states that are running short of cash.

Those are some of the sectors where new federal billions could be deployed in coming months. The scope of rescue programs appears likely to widen even as the tab for the core bailout – the one centered on banks and other financial firms – also keeps rising.

But federal resources aren’t infinite. With the size and shape of assistance rapidly evolving, how the money is managed could significantly influence the depth and duration of the current slump.