B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and former finance minister Carole James roll out “StrongerBC,” a $1.5 billion business support plan for COVID-19, eight months after the B.C. legislature approved the money and four days before a snap election call, Sept. 17, 2020. (B.C. government photo)

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and former finance minister Carole James roll out “StrongerBC,” a $1.5 billion business support plan for COVID-19, eight months after the B.C. legislature approved the money and four days before a snap election call, Sept. 17, 2020. (B.C. government photo)

B.C.’s COVID-19 business grant fund still mostly unspent

$300 million pandemic assistance approved almost a year ago

One of the most pressing issues facing B.C. Premier John Horgan’s government when the legislature resumes sitting March 1 is its inability to provide grants of up to $30,000 to keep small businesses going until the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are eased.

Tourism businesses are eligible for up to $15,000 more, because travel restrictions have devastated their ability to operate, but eligibility rules have prevented many businesses from applying. And almost a year after borrowing the money was unanimously approved by MLAs, the business portion remains mostly unspent as businesses continue to fold.

Horgan announced the program days before calling the October election, with $300 million allocated from a $5 billion emergency fund approved by the legislature last March. In December the Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grants program was overhauled by incoming Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon to make it easier to qualify.

RELATED: Tourism business assistance ‘coming soon,’ Horgan vows

RELATED: No election regrets, Horgan says in year-end interview

As of Feb. 18 the ministry reported 9,500 applications were in progress for only $21 million in grants, with a deadline of March 31 for the remaining $279 million. Due to the accounting rules of the legislature, any money not spent by the end of the fiscal year is automatically returned to the treasury to pay down the province’s fast-growing debt.

The program deadline can’t be extended because of that rule, Horgan said, but more changes may be made to get the rest of the money out to struggling businesses, with as many as one third of owners saying their operations won’t survive the pandemic.

“The challenge is not criteria,” Horgan said. “The challenge is we are not having enough people asking for the money.”

Interim B.C. Liberal leader Shirley Bond said there is no doubt of the need, and Horgan’s suggestion that even more changes are required is an admission of “how badly this program has been botched.”

“To suggest it might be retooled again?” Bond said. “Since the moment this program was rolled out, it has been a mess. Now we’re finding a mad scramble to try to get dollars out the door.”

The original program required businesses to show they lost at least 50 per cent of their revenue in each month of pandemic restrictions. With the December changes, businesses in operation for 18 months were allowed to apply, down from the original limit of three years, and an additional grant for tourism-related businesses was increased from a maximum of $10,000 to $15,000.

The 2021-22 B.C. budget has been delayed until April, and Horgan said there will be further assistance, including for businesses that are too large to qualify for the current grant program.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureBC politicsCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Restaurant owners Oura and Kymon Giakoumakis visit the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PQBeat: COVID-19 pandemic hits food service industry hard

Podcast: Parksville Qualicum Beach restaurant owners share thoughts and advice

Ballenas Secondar School (PQB News file photo)
COVID-19: Another exposure reported at Parksville’s Ballenas Secondary

Public health staff are completing contact tracing

The Parksville Fire Department and Qualicum Beach Fire Department will not amalgamate. (PQB News file photo)
Plan to merge Parksville, Qualicum Beach fire departments jettisoned

Fire services review report released to the public

John Ambrose Seward, 33, is described as Indigenous and five-foot-eight with short black hair and brown eyes. (Police handout)
John Ambrose Seward, 33, is described as Indigenous and five-foot-eight with short black hair and brown eyes. (Police handout)
High-risk sex offender banned from central Island, living in Vancouver: police

John Ambrose Seward, 33, has been released from prison under a number of conditions

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s help in identifying the man suspected of being involved in a stabbing. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to identify stabbing suspect who wielded rusty knife

Stabbing followed argument between two men at Port Place Shopping Centre April 1

The inside of the Campbell River Community Centre gymnasium has been marked off in order to facilitate the public flowing through the clinic as they receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell river Mirror
Leftover vaccines go into arms, not down the drain: Island Health

Immunization plan comes with built-in options for any unused vaccines at the end of the day

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning says the players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 are recovering and the team still intends to play a 56-game season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks players ‘mostly on the other side’ of COVID outbreak: general manager

The athletes have had a “whole range” of COVID-19 symptoms, said team physician Dr. Jim Bovard, but no one has needed to be hospitalized

Police are investigating after a man was shot Thursday, April 8 while sitting in a car in Vancouver. (Black Press files)
Man shot in Vancouver while sitting in a parked car: police

The victim is currently in critical condition. Police say no arrests have been made.

Teachers from SD42 and other districts in the Lower Mainland flocked to Surrey on Tuesday in the hopes of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. (Sheelagh Brothers/Twitter)
Don’t line up for vaccines unless asked to come, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

Social media post shows teachers lining up outside of Surrey clinic for leftover doses

Most Read