LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Sixteen companies associated with Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen received approximately $ 7.8 million federal loans during the pandemic and later returned over $ 5 million of that .

The loans were part of the paycheck protection program that was created to help businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. The Omaha World-Herald reports that Nebraska companies have received 114,684 loans totaling $ 5.39 billion.

Documents filed with the federal small business administration show that Pillen Family Farms received the loans to support 1,057 jobs.

Sarah Pillen, co-CEO of the Columbus-based company, said the loans helped the company retain employees at a time when the spread of the virus disrupted the meat packaging industry by forcing a number of processing plants to close.

Sarah Pillen said the companies were struggling with lost revenue because they couldn’t sell livestock and with ongoing costs for caring for the animals.

Sarah Pillen said the companies repaid $ 5.08 million and canceled the loans under the program.

Governor Pete Ricketts said companies across the state have been encouraged to apply for the loans.

“The Pillens, like everyone else, were eligible to seek this help,” Ricketts said. “I applaud them for going above and beyond and repaying a large portion of their PPP, even when most of those loans are out.”

The World-Herald did not find any loans associated with companies affiliated with any of the other announced candidates for governor or Ricketts.