Federal aid has started to arrive to small businesses in Minnesota closed or harmed by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

River City Builders and Millworks, a construction contractor near Northfield, received nearly $300,000 from the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program late last week. It was one of the first firms in Minnesota to benefit from the $349 billion in emergency aid that Congress and President Donald Trump created last month.

"It was important for us because this helps with cash flow," Heather Kluge, controller of River City, said Monday. "We don't know where the economy is going. We don't know how to project cash flow."

JIT Powder Coating Co. of Farmington received $500,000 from the SBA late last week.

"The loan is huge for us," said Tim Milner, who started the company 27 years ago. He now has 70 employees.

"Our business is down about 20% this year," Milner said. "I kept our employees on at full wages. This will help us rebuild some of the cash we've spent the last couple months."

Milner said he applied for the loan at Deerwood Bank and the process was speedy. "Deerwood didn't even need my financials because they've had them since early this year."

Kluge said River City applied for its loan through Frandsen Bank in Dundas.

"The SBA application was friendly," Kluge said. "A two-page application and they wanted last year's tax returns and payroll report for last 12 months. They based it on that."

River City furloughed 15 workers last month after most economic activity closed down and Americans distanced themselves to try to slow the spread of the deadly illness. Now, she said, the company will recall the furloughed workers.

The proceeds from the loan are designed to cover 2.5 times the payroll of the 20 workers, plus some regular business expenses such as rent.

Under the program, the SBA guarantees small-business loans of up to $10 million at a 1% interest rate. The loans will be forgivable as long as the money is used for payroll and specified expenses.

Banks across the country on April 1 began taking loan applications on behalf of the SBA. There has been anecdotal evidence that small community banks have been more nimble in handling applicants than larger ones, and some business owners have complained of delays at the SBA.

The federal agency has said the volume of applications in less than two weeks was many times greater than it normally processes in a year. As of Sunday, the agency had approved more than 860,000 loans seeking $213 billion.

"This is the largest economic recovery program in our country's history," Brian McDonald, acting director of SBA Minnesota, said in a statement Monday.