More than 7,600 small companies and nonprofits in Maine have been approved for forgivable loans under the reauthorized Paycheck Protection Program, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office said Thursday.

About $553 million in forgivable loans has been approved for Maine businesses, according to Collins, an architect of the program.

“The continued demand for forgivable PPP loans demonstrates why it was so important that we reopened this program for the hardest hit small businesses,” Collins said in a statement.

PPP loans provide funding to cover payroll and basic expenses for small employers during the coronavirus pandemic. If borrowers follow program rules and spend most of the money to pay workers and avoid layoffs, the loans can be converted into grants.

Last year, more than 28,000 PPP loans valued at almost $2.3 billion were approved in Maine. The program is credited with supporting 250,000 jobs last spring, during a period of incredible economic uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic. About $525 billion in loans was approved nationwide last year.

In December, Congress approved another $284 billion for the loan program. Businesses that received a loan last year can get another if they have 300 or fewer employees and showed a 25 percent revenue loss in one quarter of 2020 compared with the same period the year before.

Lending under this phase of the program has been slower because new limits exclude some borrowers, others no longer need financial assistance and some industries can access more specialized assistance programs instead.

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