The B.C. government has reduced the loss requirement for its long-awaited relief grants for small business and tourism operations devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions.
However, the BC Liberal critic for jobs, economic recovery, and innovation, Todd Stone, says that with only $65 million of the $300 million allocated for the program having been handed out since October, and the deadline for applications set for March 31, time is running out for struggling businesses.
Small businesses can qualify for grants up to $30,000 by showing 30 per cent loss of income at the time they apply, rather than 50 per cent, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon announced just before Christmas. Newer businesses in operation for 18 months can also now qualify. The original program, which opened during the October election campaign, restricted assistance to businesses in operation for at least three years.
The new application form is posted at www.bcbusinessrecoverygrant.com. Businesses that have already applied do not have to reapply, and their applications will be considered with the new criteria, Kahlon said.
The original criteria required small businesses to show they lost at least 50 per cent of their revenue in each month of the pandemic restrictions, with only 1,400 applications received up to Dec. 10, 2020.
During the brief mid-December legislature sitting to approve further borrowing for COVID-19 relief and recovery, Stone called for changes to the program, which he termed a “red tape disaster.” He recently called the program’s restrictions “onerous” and said that the changes made in December were not enough, as many businesses still do not qualify.
In addition to changing the requirements, Stone is calling on the government to extend the application period beyond its current March 31 expiration date. He also wants to government to commit to ensuring that the entire $300 million is used to support small- and medium-sized businesses, and not repurposed for other things.
Kahlon has also announced that the additional grant for tourism-related businesses is increased from a maximum $10,000 to $15,000. The original budget of $300 million for the program has not been increased, meaning it will last until the fund runs out, but $50 million has been dedicated to tourism operators only.
A government-appointed tourism industry task force released its report Dec. 9, calling for additional emergency aid as tourism businesses have been shutting down. Businesses that have closed or operate seasonally can also apply, Kahlon said.
Ian Tostenson, president of BC Restaurant and Food Services Association, welcomed the additional access to relief funding for a group that represents nearly 14,000 businesses employing more than 190,000 people. About a quarter of employees are aged between 15 and 25, many of them women, and they saw their most difficult December ever, he said.