Small businesses in Connecticut can begin applying this week for the second round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans, which officials hope will help keep businesses afloat until the COVID-19 vaccine begins improving economic conditions.

About 60,000 Connecticut businesses received funding under the first round of the program, which totalled almost $6.8 billion in assistance. During a Tuesday media event with state small business owners, Gov. Ned Lamont called the loans “a bridge to the vaccinations.”

“You can apply now. Apply the same way you did before and get to the front of the line. It is a bridge to somewhere in the sense that we’re doing everything we can to keep people employed, keep your businesses going,” he said.

Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman said participating businesses could see funding from the program in late January or early February.

“That provides that two or three month lifeline to what I think should be a much better operating environment,” he said.

During the virtual event Tuesday, several business owners praised the state for launching grant programs aimed at bridging the gap between the two rounds of federal funding. During the pandemic, Lehman said the state has awarded grants to more than 12,000 Connecticut businesses totaling $85 million.

Dan Meiser, owner of several Connecticut restaurants including the Oyster Club in Mystic, called the state grant programs “critical” for his and many other businesses.

“Coupled with the second round of PPP that is coming out in the coming days and hopefully those checks will be in the mail shortly thereafter. That piece of it, I can’t stress the importance of what that money means for so many of our restaurants, our caterers, our event venues especially that have been hit so hard during this pandemic,” Meiser said.

Jody Morneau of Stackpole, Moore and Tryon was brought to tears explaining what it’s been like trying to operate these past few months.

“We no longer have any employees, and I had to lay everyone off and my husband and I are working with volunteers,” Morneau said. “Stackpole has been in biz for 111 years.”

Morneau, who has been in business in downtown Hartford for years, said it’s the only retail left.

She said there aren’t many restaurants left downtown, either.

She didn’t apply for a first round of PPP funding because she wasn’t sure she would be able to pay it back if she did, but she’s grateful for the opportunity for a second round.

Jason Correia, principal in CLA LLP, said any business seeking to qualify for this second round of PPP funding has to have already applied for the first round. The deadline for Morneau and any other such business owner to do so has been extended. Any business seeking to qualify for this second round of PPP funding has to have already applied and qualified for the first round.

The maximum amount for businesses applying for the second round is $2 million. The first round was $10 million.

“Our business was down about 85% when we first opened and now it’s down 65%,” Moreau said.

In order to qualify for the second round of funding, businesses must show a revenue loss of 25% during one quarter when compared with 2019. Businesses that apply for and are granted loan forgiveness do not have to pay the money back.

“You can apply for forgiveness,” Correia said. “The loans are completely non-taxable.”

The applications for the second round were made available last week and businesses with fewer than 300 employees will be asked to file the paperwork with their bank.