In this Dec. 8, 2020, file photo, a sign advertises space for lease at the former Po' Boys and Pickles location on Federal Street in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

More Maine financial institutions can start taking applications starting Friday for a new round of the federal loans that have buoyed small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The loan applications, which started Monday, were initially restricted to community financial institutions such as microlenders and certified development corporations with less than $1 billion in average total assets over the past three years. On Friday, banks and credit unions with $1 billion or less in assets will be able to take new applications and second applications for the federal loans. Next Tuesday, all lenders can take loans, the U.S. Small Business Administration said Thursday.

The popular loans have been a lifeline for small businesses. Last year, Maine small businesses applied for more than 28,000 loans totaling close to $2.3 billion by August in the forgivable loan program championed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in the first pandemic stimulus package in March. The $900 billion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump in December included $284 billion for a new round of the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.

The number of new applications taken so far hasn’t been tallied yet, according to a spokesperson for the Maine office of the Small Business Administration. Community banks, credit unions and farm credit institutions will be able to start taking applications on Friday. About 13 Maine-based lenders, including Bangor Savings Bank and Camden National Bank, are above the $1 billion limit and will start the loans next Tuesday.

The Small Business Administration said it wants to make sure small businesses have access to the loans. It plans to have dedicated service hours on its loan portal for smaller lenders starting next week.

The need for financial help has increased for most businesses since the summer. More than 44 percent of Maine small businesses saw decreased revenues during the week between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3, higher than the national average amid a normally slower winter season and nearly double what it was in the second week of August, according to a census survey.

Initial state unemployment claims remained high but were down slightly for the week that ended Jan. 9, according to Maine Department of Labor data released Thursday. The department received 3,700 initial claims for state unemployment insurance and 700 initial claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. A total of 4,150 people filed an initial claim or reopened their unemployment claim.