WASHINGTON, D.C. — Businesses that borrowed $150,000 or less through the Paycheck Protection Program can start the applications for loan forgiveness through a new, streamlined U.S. Small Business Administration portal starting Wednesday.

The idea is to simplify the forgiveness process so businesses can focus on re-opening.

Lenders are required to opt-in to the program through direct forgiveness.sba.gov. About 600 lenders have signed up so far.

In addition to the technology platform, the SBA’s customer service team is available from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at (877) 552-2692 to answer questions and directly assist borrowers with forgiveness applications.

Established by the CARES Act in 2020, the PPP was among the first COVID-19 small business economic aid programs. The SBA, working with private lenders, originated more than 11.7 million loans totaling nearly $800 billion in relief to more than 8.5 million small businesses.

In 2021, 6.5 million loans were approved, totaling more than $275 billion, with the average loan size of $42,000, compared to $101,000 in 2020.

The SBA estimates about 30% of businesses with loans of $150,000 or less have not yet submitted for forgiveness.