More than 2,400 Maine employers were approved for over $221 million in forgivable federal loans in the first two weeks the renewed Paycheck Protection Program was open to applicants.

The program provides federal loans to small employers to pay workers and cover essential business costs. All or a portion of the loans can be forgiven – converted to a grant – if borrowers follow program rules that include spending most of the money on payroll.

More than 28,000 loans worth almost $2.3 billion were approved in Maine during the first round of the program last year. Those loans are credited with supporting up to 250,000 jobs.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who helped draft the program, pushed for another $284 billion in loan funds to be included in coronavirus relief bill passed in December.

“The demand for the PPP from Maine small businesses in just the first two weeks of the program’s reopening underscores its vital importance,” Collins said in a news release.

To qualify, businesses and nonprofits cannot employ more than 300 workers and need to demonstrate at least a 25 percent revenue loss in one quarter of 2020 compared with the same period the year before.

The deadline for the latest round of loan applications is March 31 or when the funds are depleted, whichever comes first.

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