More than 5,300 Maine small businesses had been approved by Friday morning for federally backed emergency loans to keep workers on the payroll throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with the loans’ total value exceeding $1 billion.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, issued a statement early Friday saying 5,334 small businesses in Maine had been approved for more than $1 billion in forgivable loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which Collins co-authored. Dozens of Maine lending institutions are currently participating in the program, she said.

“These overwhelmingly high numbers speak for themselves,” Collins said in the statement. “This more than $1 billion in urgently needed relief is great news for our state, and it will help thousands of Maine small employers continue to pay their employees and keep from closing their doors.”

Collins said the loan program, which received bipartisan support, will help address the cash flow problem small businesses are facing as a result of the economic harm caused by the coronavirus.

“Maine banks and credit unions are working around the clock to assist small businesses and certain nonprofits with their funding needs,” she said. “I will continue to work closely with these financial institutions, the (U.S. Small Business Administration) and the Treasury Department to ensure this approved funding is disbursed as soon as possible.”

Paycheck Protection Program loans were created by the Keeping American Workers Paid and Employed Act, which was authored by Collins and Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida; Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire.

The loans are designed to help small employers continue to keep paying their workers for an eight-week period during the coronavirus pandemic. The loans will be forgiven as long as employers keep their workers on the payroll. Certain overhead expenses, including utilities, are also included.

The legislation was included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and signed into law on March 27. About $350 billion was set aside to fund the loans, and federal lawmakers were debating this week whether to add another $250 billion of funding to the program.

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