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

The program, designed to help small businesses and their employees weather the coronavirus pandemic, granted an additional 9,026 Maine small employers roughly  $317.2 million in forgivable loans 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. “The fact that the average loan size for Maine small employers in this second round of funding was just over $35,000 – supporting some of Maine’s smallest businesses as well as self-employed individuals like carpenters, entertainers, plumbers, and many others – shows why it was so important that Congress approved an additional $320 billion to replenish the PPP. This program is making a real difference by allowing small businesses to stay afloat and continue to provide paychecks to their workers.”

Last month, Congress passed legislation to provide an additional $320 billion for the program, bringing total funding to $670 billion.

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.

So far, about 10 percent of small businesses in Maine have received help from the program, which forgives loan balances if recipients maintain a certain level of employment. 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.

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