In a little more than a week since the program went live, 8,400 small businesses in Maine have been approved for $1.5 billion in forgivable payroll loans to help avoid job losses.

The Paycheck Protection Program, which was part of the $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law late last month, was co-authored by U.S. Sen. Susan Colllins, R-Maine.

“This urgently needed relief will help keep workers’ paychecks coming and small businesses afloat,” Collins said in a statement Saturday. “I will continue to work closely with Maine banks and credit unions, the (Small Business Administration), and the Treasury Department to help ensure that all of this approved funding is disbursed as soon as possible.”

The loans, which cover an eight-week period, will be forgiven provided businesses keep workers on their payroll. Other expenses, such as utilities, are included.

The number of businesses that have been approved has increased substantially. In the first two days after business could apply, about 1,000 employers received $292 million in loans. Six days later, the amount increased fivefold.

Small businesses are defined as those will fewer than 500 employees, which is the overwhelmingly majority of all Maine businesses.

Even though the program is meant to stave off job losses, Maine has seen an unprecedented number of people apply for unemployment. During the week of March 29-April 4, 30,900 Mainers applied for benefits.

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