The B.C. NDP government has announced a second overhaul of its struggling small business and tourism COVID-19 recovery grant program, and extended the deadline five months for a $300 million relief fund that is still less than half subscribed.
Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon has been under pressure to fix the program since he was appointed to cabinet after last October’s election. After the first overhaul in December, Kahlon reported Thursday that $55 million or more than one sixth of the fund has been granted, with a March 31 application deadline approaching. The program was launched during the election campaign, with few small and medium businesses qualified or able to apply for emergency funds of $30,000, with an extra $15,000 for qualified tourism businesses.
“From day one we’ve been really nimble with this program,” Kahlon told reporters March 4. “More than 50 per cent of the applications have been tourist-based businesses, so that shows it’s getting to the people who need it most.”
B.C. Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone said months of delays make the changes too late for some businesses.
“I’m glad the NDP government is making these changes which the B.C. Liberals have been advocating for since last year,” Stone said. “Unfortunately, this has taken so long that many small businesses have already closed down, and it might be too late for many others.”
The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade applauded the latest changes, lowering the bar for qualifying to demonstrated revenue loss of 30 per cent at some point in the year-long pandemic. Previously, businesses had to show that they experienced at least a 70 per cent loss, and the program now includes funds to hire accountants to do the application paperwork.
Kahlon said the latest change to revenue loss requirements has allowed assistance for some businesses that have already applied and failed to qualify.
GVBOT president Bridgitte Anderson said the announcement is “welcome news,” referring to a recent survey where nearly half of surviving business owners expect pandemic revenue to extend for another three to six months.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and research has shown they have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic,” Anderson said. “Since this program was first announced our members have had difficulty accessing the program and meeting the eligibility criteria.”