More than 8,500 federal Paycheck Protection Program loans have been approved for small employers in Maine since the revamped program launched last month.

Companies and nonprofits have been approved for $601 million worth of forgivable loans in the program’s current round, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office said Wednesday.

The program provides small employers with funds to pay employees, basic expenses and some coronavirus prevention measures. The loans can be forgiven – converted to grants – if borrowers spend most of the money on payroll and follow other program rules.

The program has been credited with supporting about 250,000 jobs in Maine last year at the height of the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. Maine employers received nearly $2.3 billion in loans last year.

A federal relief bill passed in December included $284.5 billion for new paycheck protection loans and allowed establishments that received funding last year to get a “second draw” loan if they meet more restrictive application requirements.

First-time loans are available to establishments with up to 500 employees, and companies can take out second-draw loans if they have up to 300 workers and suffered revenue losses of at least 25 percent in 2020.

President Biden’s administration recently adjusted program rules so that only companies with 20 employees or fewer can apply for loans until March 10. The administration also made it easier for self-employed people to apply for loans, among other changes.

The program expires on March 31.

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