Small Business Falling Through the Gaps

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“There is NO Plan for Re-Opening from Ontario Government”

Ontario is now the only province under a blanket lockdown, with no end in sight, following Quebec’s announcement of a gradual reopening strategy yesterday, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). CFIB is urging all Members of Provincial Parliament to push for a clear and concrete path towards reopening.

Julie Kwiecinski from the CFIB joined NetNewsLedger this morning to talk about the issue.

The Ontario CFIB Director says that there is a lot of concern from their members over the current lockdown.

One of the issues, the lockdown is to end on February 10. 2021, but there has not been any announcement confirming that from Ontario. This is leaving business owners unable to plan.

“Every single other province has kept its small business community open throughout the second wave or announced plans to lift restrictions,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly. “Only Ontario is keeping business owners in the dark with strict province-wide lockdown measures and no indication of when businesses might be allowed to reopen.”

Currently, only 37 per cent of Ontario businesses are fully open, 32 per cent are fully staffed and a mere 18 per cent are making normal levels of sales. Recent CFIB research found that 20 per cent of Ontario businesses are considering permanently closing before the end of the pandemic, a potential loss of 75,000 businesses and 873,000 jobs.

CFIB is asking the Ontario government to allow all Ontario businesses to reopen at 20 per cent capacity on February 10th when the current lockdown measures expire. In addition, many businesses are not currently eligible for the Small Business Support Grant, despite seeing major drops in sales. CFIB urges the government to expand the program immediately to include any businesses that:

  • Witnessed a drop in sales due to the stay at home order
  • Have been locked down since the beginning of the pandemic (e.g. amusement parks)
  • Were locked down in the Spring of 2020

“Small businesses can’t hang on for much longer. Between mounting debt and months of dramatically reduced sales, many will not see the point of holding on without at least some clarity on when they will be allowed to reopen,” added Ryan Mallough, CFIB’s director of provincial affairs for Ontario. “Main Street needs real and immediate leadership from our MPPs on this. The only way to save small business is to allow customers back into stores, salons, gyms and restaurants.”

“Small business owners are anxious to replace subsidies with sales, but with business lockdowns and restrictions still in place across Canada, programs need to be extended and expanded in order to avoid widespread business failures,” said CFIB President Dan Kelly. “Already, one in six business owners is considering permanent closure, and that’s on top of the ones who have already gone out of business. As helpful as the programs have been for many, CFIB’s offices continue to be flooded with calls from small business owners who are struggling to access many of the critical supports. One of the biggest gaps includes the lack of access to federal programs for new businesses that opened in 2020. This needs to change.”

According to CFIB’s latest survey results, two thirds of small businesses (65 per cent) have used the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and 59 per cent have used the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). In comparison, only a quarter have used the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and 8 per cent have used a provincial support program.

While CFIB has spent months successfully lobbying for improvements and changes to each of the government programs, many additional fixes are required:

  • Create a pathway for new (2020) businesses and those with no business number to access federal support programs
  • Allow businesses that rent from a non-arms’ length entity to apply for CERS
  • Allow tenants to use CERS subsidies for rent bills without requiring full payment
  • Immediately process all outstanding applications for expanded CEBA loans and consider a further expansion ($80,000/50 per cent forgivable) as the pandemic continues
  • Allow small firms with less than $40,000 in non-deferrable expenses to access CEBA
  • Make a portion of the new Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) loan forgivable
  • Immediately announce the CEWS and CERS subsidy rates and loss comparison formula for the spring months and extend programs until all businesses are reopened and physical distancing requirements end
  • Defer tax deadlines until the end of 2021

“The reality for large groups of businesses, like those that started in 2020, is that they are left out of any support at all. For others, the help is too little too late. More work needs to be done to close these gaps so the programs can help as many businesses as possible survive the pandemic,” added Kelly.