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Small business owners still waiting on government grants promised from previous lockdown

Last Updated Apr 23, 2021 at 1:22 pm EDT

Storefronts in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood are reflected in a sign indicating the temporary closure of a business to prevent the spread of COVID-19, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The pandemic has meant a slew of commercial renters — from the country's smallest businesses to the behemoths — have had to have a tough conversation with their landlord about how they are unable to cover rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Many small business owners across Ontario say they are still waiting to receive their first payment from the provincial grant program created in January to provide financial support to those forced to close under the provincewide shutdown.

“To help our small businesses through these difficult times, we have created the new Ontario Small Business Support Grant”, Premier Ford announced in a tweet in late December leading into the 28-day provincewide shutdown.

In March of this year, under the Ontario budget announcement, the program was extended — a timely move, as this year’s second provincial shutdown will continue until at least May 20th.

Confirmed eligible recipients are to automatically receive a second payment equal to the amount of their first payment, for a minimum total support of $20,000 up to a maximum of $40,000.

While some small business owners have already received their second payment, many others are still waiting for their first.

“I have been waiting for a decision on my Ontario business grant for over three months,” Moe Abu Hudra told CityNews. “I continue to call the designated line and no one is giving me a straight answer.”

Hudra, the owner of a hardware supply company, had to cancel his lease as a result.

“We can’t afford it anymore. We put all of our equipment and products in a storage unit while we try to figure this out,” said Hudra. “I am sure there are many small businesses in the same boat as me, waiting over 90 days for a simple yes or no to eligibility.”

Other small business owners, like Lisa Evens, were wrongfully denied the first round of grants.

“I phoned the Small Business of Ontario grant office and was told I could open a dispute and that this was likely an administrative error,” wrote Evens to CityNews.

She phoned back weeks later only to be told that due to the overwhelming amount of applications, it would take a long time to get a response and Evens is still waiting.

Now in this current lockdown, Evens is fearful that her toy store business in Burlington will face further losses.

“We simply cannot wait any longer for these grants if we are to stay in business. By making us wait, the government is ensuring our failure.”

Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, took to Twitter Thursday to express his disappointment in the rollout of the grant, calling it a “disaster”.

He said that many small business owners waiting for their second payment are instead receiving audit emails, adding to the existing stress. Kelly wants the focus to be on getting the payments out while halting audits, alongside expanding eligibility and immediately announcing a third round of funding.

According to a survey conducted by the NDP, 74 per cent of respondents who have applied for the grant are still waiting.

In an email to CityNews, the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade confirms, as of April 21st over 105,000 businesses have received their first installment and 44,000 have received their second. According to the ministry, there are approximately 120,000 small businesses across Ontario,

“We are processing a high volume of applications and we greatly appreciate small businesses’ patience at this time.” wrote Stephen Chiang, Issues & Engagement Manager.

“As a result, some applications will experience a delay in payment as the government does its due diligence to verify eligibility – and to correct application errors so that eligible businesses are not denied funding.”

In reference to the audits some businesses owners have been receiving ahead of their second payment, Chiang says that some businesses will be asked for additional information in order to receive the funds adding to the delay.