Applications are coming in and grants going out at a steadier pace in B.C.’s troubled COVID-19 relief fund for tourism small business, B.C. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon says.
The $300 million pandemic assistance fund, approved by the legislature almost a year ago and launched in the midst of the surprise election campaign last October, has approved $50 million in assistance as of Tuesday, Kahlon told reporters at the B.C. legislature. Kahlon’s first task after being named the minister late last year was to overhaul the program to ease restrictions that left many businesses unable to apply.
“We continue to see applications coming in week over week,” Kahlon said March 2. “Sixty per cent of the applications are coming from tourism operators, which get a higher amount, $45,000. So over the next week or two, we’re going to continue to watch that trend, and then we’ll have more to say.”
The $300 million program expires at the end of the fiscal year March 31, and due to provincial accounting rules, any surplus goes to pay down the province’s ballooning debt. The B.C. NDP government has delayed its next budget from February to April, after running up an expected deficit of nearly $13 billion for 2020-21.
Kahlon said the turnaround time for a grant application varies, depending on whether a business has the accounting paperwork and a post-pandemic recovery plan done. In addition to grants of up to $30,000 for qualified small businesses, with an extra $15,000 for eligible tourism businesses, the program offers up to $2,000 for professional services.
B.C. Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone accused the government Monday of spending more on administration than they have on grants, which Kahlon said is “completely false” and contradicted by the document Stone cited. That $31 million is part of the $300 million fund, but goes to professional services for creating a recovery plan, including language services for applying.
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 in every month of the pandemic, Kahlon announced Dec. 21. Newer businesses in operation for 18 months can now qualify, rather than the original program opened during the October election campaign that restricted assistance to businesses in operation for at least three years.
The application form is posted at a government website, bcbusinessrecoverygrant.com.