TORONTO - In another round of modified lockdowns and restrictions, the Ontario government introduces a new $10,000 grant for small businesses impacted by Omicron. The news provides little comfort to small business affected by this latest round of closures - the fourth time in the last two years.
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the average Ontario small business debt due to Covid-19 is an overwhelming $190,000.
The Ontario Covid-19 Small Business Relief Grant, announced January 7, aims to provide new financial supports to businesses that are subject to closure under the modified “Step Two” restrictions. Eligible businesses include restaurants, fitness/sports centres, event spaces, theatres, museums, galleries and before/after school programs.
Businesses like retail and salons that have had to cut capacity in half do not qualify for the grant. Providing eligibility, they will be able to apply (on January 18) for the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program to help with property tax and energy costs.
The government indicated that qualifying businesses could expect the financial aid to arrive in February. Dan Kelly, president of CFIB reacted to the $10,000 government grant on Twitter calling it “good news”. However, he added that it would be “entirely insufficient” if the lockdown lasts longer than three weeks.
Affected businesses that qualified and received last year’s Ontario Small Business Support Grant need not apply. They will automatically be pre-screened for the new grant eligibility. As for new businesses that meet the requirements, the government indicated that they would need to apply online; applications open “in the coming weeks”.
Throughout the pandemic, government aid programs for businesses totalled $11.2 Billion. However, the Auditor General’s Annual Report indicated that about $210 million was sent to 14,500 ineligible recipients. The troubling find suggests the need for better controls and assessment processes.
If some find they do not meet the necessary criteria for the Relief Grant, they will receive a break through energy costs. In fact, the Ontario government is providing electricity-rate relief to support small business, workers and families weather this phase of the pandemic.
As of January 18, electricity prices will be set at 8.2 cents per kilowatt per hour, the off-peak rate 24-hours a day, and last for a period of 21 days. The date of the new rate change leaves families questioning the timing since it comes into effect the day after students are expected to resume in-person learning.
However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy told CP24 the later start date is to accommodate local utilities time to implement the change. The break in energy prices provides some relief to eligible businesses and individuals working from home during this phase of the pandemic. Critics argue that more needs to be done to help businesses in the long term.
We are into a new era of economic dependency.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter