Smaller senior living and skilled nursing operators overwhelmed by the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic soon can tap into a federal bailout fund to pay bills and keep workers on the payroll — and if they meet the requirements, operators won’t need to make repayments.

The program, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, provides the Small Business Administration with $349 billion in loan guarantees to a network of 1,800 small business lenders much like the traditional SBA 7(a) loan program. Almost any business with fewer than 500 employees that existed before Feb. 15 can access a forgivable loan up to $10 million. 

The SBA will forgive these loans when all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.

Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that small businesses can apply for loans as soon as Friday, and they will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.