More than 23,000 grants have been issued to firms in Northern Ireland to help them through the coronavirus crisis.
Diane Dodds gave the updated figure on the distribution of grants of £10,000 and £25,000, to the Stormont Assembly’s Economy Committee on Wednesday, May 20.
The grants are intended to help stricken small businesses, as well as those in the tourism, leisure, retail and hospitality trades.
Applications for both funds close today - and she said that 21,172 grants of £10,000 had so far been paid out, and 2,065 grants of £25,000.
And a hardship loan scheme of £40m aimed at firms with between one and nine staff which have not yet been able to avail of grant funding would go live at 6pm tonight.
Mrs Dodds referred to the roadmap announced last week for the reopening of the economy in Northern Ireland.
She said she wished to see reopening of the economy continue in a safe manner.
“The more we of our economy we can restart safely.. the less likely we will face large-scale redundancies later.”
She added that “care and thought” would be needed before reopening the retail sector beyond those shops which are currently allowed to trade.
And the hospitality sector would be reopening again towards the end of the reopening phases “and will need additional support,” the Minister said.