Business recovery grant program deadline extended

By Shannon Waters March 5, 2021

Small businesses in B.C. now have until the end of August to apply for the government’s $345-million recovery grant program, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon announced Thursday.

The news came less than two weeks after Premier John Horgan closed the door on the possibility of an extension, citing financial complications related to keeping the program running past the province’s fiscal year-end.

“We need to spend the money by March 31 or it goes back into servicing the provincial debt, which is not a bad thing, but we want to make sure we get the money into people’s hands,” the premier said on February 18.

But yesterday, Kahlon confirmed that struggling businesses can continue to apply for the program until August 31 or until the money runs out. The program has delivered $55 million since applications opened in September, per Kahlon.

“Applications continue to come in, there’s been a steady increase,” Kahlon said.

The BC Liberals blasted the program extension as “a day late and a dollar short.”

“I think this is about the third version of this program that is so desperately needed by small- and medium-sized businesses across the province,” Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond said. “We are hopeful that this will improve the process.”

In December, the program’s eligibility criteria was broadened to include newer businesses and firms that lost 30 per cent of their revenue, rather than 50 per cent.

Kahlon said more than half of the applications received so far have come from tourism-based businesses, which are eligible for up to $45,000 in funding.

But even with relaxed eligibility, the recovery funding is trickling out compared to how quickly other provinces have managed to get cash to struggling businesses. In Ontario, the government distributed a whopping $1 billion to 78,000 small businesses in just seven weeks since the start of the year.

Kahlon said B.C.’s situation is not the same.

“Ontario has been dealing with a second wave with businesses shutting down,” he said of that province’s speedy mobilization of its own grant funding. “The [B.C.] business community made it clear to us that a second lockdown would be dramatically worse than the first one — Ontario is feeling that.”

He added that B.C. has “the highest per capita support” for people and businesses of any province. “We’re really proud of that,” he said (that support included federal funding).

The BC Chamber of Commerce welcomed the program’s extension, but president and CEO Fiona Famulak said the chamber’s own survey indicates nearly 75 per cent of B.C. businesses are continuing to look for more effective relief from the province.