Nearly 26,000 small businesses in Maine have received a total of $2.55 billion in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans since the federal assistance program began, Sen. Susan Collins’ office said.

The program designed to help small businesses and their employees weather the coronavirus pandemic granted 9,026 Maine small employers roughly $317.2 million in loans during the second round of funding last week, Collins’ office said. That brings the total to 25,695 Maine small employers having received loans.

The average loan size in Maine last week was $35,145, with an estimated average business size of three employees, it said. The recipients also included a number of self-employed individuals.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, these Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans are a lifeline for thousands of Maine small businesses and self-employed individuals and are supporting Maine jobs estimated to exceed 200,000,” Collins said in a statement.

Last month, Congress passed legislation to provide an additional $320 billion for the program, bringing total funding to $670 billion. Money from the first round of funding ran out quickly, and according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about $175 billion of additional loans were approved last week out of the second funding round.

Collins said the fact that the average loan size for Maine small employers in the second round of funding was just over $35,000 – supporting some of Maine’s smallest businesses as well as self-employed individuals such as carpenters, entertainers, plumbers and others – shows why it was so important that Congress approved an additional $320 billion to replenish the program.

“This program is making a real difference by allowing small businesses to stay afloat and continue to provide paychecks to their workers,” she said.

Following a push by Collins, the U.S. Treasury Department released a new rule last week that provides greater flexibility to seasonal businesses applying for forgivable loans.

Previously, the maximum size of a seasonal employer’s Paycheck Protection Program loan was calculated by using the applicant’s average monthly payroll costs during the 12-week period beginning Feb. 15 or March 1, and ending June 30.

The new rule issued by the Treasury gives seasonal employers the option to use any consecutive 12-week period between May 1, 2019, and Sept. 15, 2019, to determine their maximum loan amount when they apply, it said. In other words, they can base their loan applications on payroll needs during their busiest months.

About 10 percent of small businesses in Maine received help from the initial funding round of the program, which forgives loan balances if recipients maintain a certain level of employment. According to an analysis issued Monday by Utah-based business assistance nonprofit Business.org, 10.2 percent of Maine small businesses received an emergency loan in the first round, compared with 5.7 percent of small businesses nationwide.

According to the Business.org analysis, rural states generally had a higher percentage of small businesses helped by the program than large, urban states. California fared the worst, with only 2.8 percent of its small businesses receiving forgivable loans. North Dakota fared the best, with 15 percent of its small businesses receiving loans.

Some business groups have criticized the program because large restaurant chains and publicly traded companies were able to get millions of dollars in forgivable loans.

The Maine Small Business Coalition said Monday that it will host an online forum via Zoom at 1 p.m. Tuesday for small-business owners impacted by coronavirus to tell their stories and speak about how the Paycheck Protection Program isn’t working for them.

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