LACONIA — The Small Business Administration has simplified procedures for forgiving Payroll Protection Program loans, including 24,741 in New Hampshire totaling more than $2.5 billion.

The money was lent through banks as part of the federal emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic and was intended to cover payroll and other expenses with the idea of keeping people employed.

Original rules said the loans would be forgiven, essentially turned into grants, if businesses used the money for payroll and allowable expenses while not reducing staffing or salaries.

Now, the SBA says that for businesses receiving less than $50,000 through the program, all that is required is documentation of actual payroll, rent and utility expenses, Administrator Rachael Roderick, of the agency’s New Hampshire office, said in an interview Friday.

For companies that received more than $50,000, there are still staffing and salary requirements, but there are exceptions that will allow most companies to have their loans forgiven, Roderick said.

For example, it won’t count against a business if a job was offered to a laid-off employee who chose to stay on unemployment compensation or didn’t want to return out of concern for catching the virus.

In any case, under the terms of the program, any loan repayment isn’t required until next year.

Simplified applications for converting loans to grants have been disseminated.

“We tell people there’s no rush to do it,” Roderick said. “The agency opened up the forgiveness portal to lenders on Oct. 2. The new simplified loan forgiveness application came out on Oct. 8. We are seeing some lenders put applications in, others are waiting.”

Some businesses and banks have been eager to move forward with the forgiveness process.

“It’s always better to have a stronger balance sheet,” Roberick said.

On the other hand, the outstanding loans don’t appear to have stopped businesses from seeking additional money through other SBA programs, she said.

Although the forgiveness provisions are being expanded, Roderick said documentation requirements will serve to prevent fraud or abuse.

Nationally, the program has provided 5.2 million loans worth $525 billion to small businesses.

Gov. Chris Sununu sent a letter Thursday to Jovita Carranza, administrator of the agency in Washington, saying there has been a slowdown in lending by banks in the state.

“We have been told that a large part of this is due to many New Hampshire enterprises receiving PPP loans that have qualified to be converted into PPP grants, but the SBA has yet to take this action,” he said.

“This has resulted in many businesses and nonprofits appearing to be over-leveraged when in reality they are healthy and prepared to invest in their future. These businesses need the confidence and the ability to return to their existing relationships with local banks through traditional financing instruments.”

He asked that PPP loan forgiveness be expedited.

“We understand and share your concern with waste, fraud and abuse of programs like these, especially when rolled out so quickly,” Sununu said. “However, we believe there is a way for the federal government to retain the right to audit any final awards, whether loans or grants, and not further delay loan conversions due to this risk.”

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