Many businesses in need of more supports during Omicron wave




SaltWire Network


TRURO - During a new wave of COVID infections and the resulting restrictions, some businesses are hurting again and not all are getting financial help. With a $1 billion surplus announced during Nova Scotia’s budget announcement on Dec. 21, opposition critics called for short-term action to help small businesses weather the latest COVID storm. “We're looking at lessons learned from last time, we're hearing from different organizations,” Premier Tim Houston said during a COVID briefing later that day in response to a media question about the need for more business supports. “And we'll do what we can to get people through this." On Dec. 17, the province introduced the Sector Impact Support Program, which provides up to $7,500 in onetime grants, through a tiered amount based on payroll. The program helps industries such as restaurants, bars, gyms, live performing arts facilities and recreation facilities. While some provincial grants have been provided, the most financial business support has come from the federal government through wage and rent subsidies, which were phased out in October. “The announcement (for the Sector Impact Support Program) certainly comes at a time when it's much needed,” said Derek Forsyth, a restaurant owner and business advocate in Truro. “I, personally, don't think that it's enough.” But Forsyth did acknowledge the program is a big help this time of year to help pay bills while recovering from lost revenue and Christmas party cancellations. He said everyone is exhausted and has been doing their best, adding that restaurants are still a safe space for close contacts to socialize and enjoy food. “I'm hopeful and optimistic the provincial and federal governments can really look at what's happening, and what's going to happen to small businesses in the next three or four months,” he said, “and really buckle down and help us out once again because small businesses drive Canada. On Dec. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the temporary extension of the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit and the Local Lockdown Program, supplying wage and rent subsidies up to $300 per week for eligible businesses whose activities or capacity have been reduced by more than 50 per cent due to public health orders. Restaurants have been reduced to 50 per cent capacity, which was basically the situation regarding social distancing requirements before the latest crackdown. Many restaurants have trouble breaking even in January and February, said Forsyth. “On the broad spectrum, and this isn't just for restaurants, it's for all small businesses that the current subsidies in place aren't going to be enough to get a lot of the businesses through January, February, March,” he said. “So I hope they'll revisit it.” Davinder Singh Mavi has not been able to qualify for the grants since his is one of several businesses that do not quite qualify under the program's profit-loss margin. His Italian shoe store, AA Wearhouse, has been growing since opening in 2017, but COVID is stalling that progress. Most of his clientele is over 45 and fewer workers are coming in for safety wear, he said. “Every time cases are increased, they are staying home,” said Mavi. “I'm not blaming them. They are doing a good thing, they are doing the right thing where they are staying home.” Supply chain issues have affected stock, including footwear sizes. Mavi pays upfront for stock and shipments he expected six months ago are just now arriving. Normally, the holiday shopping season is a time of increased revenue that stores rely on, but Mavi is currently operating at a loss. “I don’t know how I can survive. I was talking with all my customers today from last week, and I was saying if they are doing another lockdown, I am done ... I can't do anymore. So I don't know about this business support plan they are issuing. Why we are not eligible for nothing? 'Why?' is the only question I can ask.” Applications for the grant open in early January, after rent is typically due. “Any one of these situations can put a business in a precarious position where revenues are not following a normal pattern,” said Sherry Martell, executive director of the Truro & Colchester Chamber of Commerce. “They are already stretched thin from coming through a summer where things were not your typical tourism season.” Tourism is down about 73 per cent compared to the 2019 season, said Martell, adding that one of the biggest things to help businesses during COVID is consumer confidence. Of every dollar spent locally, 68 per cent stays within the local economy. “As much as the situation needs government support, we also need consumers to feel comfortable coming out and supporting local business … recovery isn't just about what governments can do,” said Martell. “It's about what local citizens can do to support their own regions.” The chamber welcomes the Sector Impact Support Program and believes the province needs to emphasize recovery efforts, with support coming in several ways. The chamber has been busy playing a supporting role for businesses and putting over half a million dollars back into the local economy. Support has been provided through initiatives such as e-commerce, rapid testing (now being scaled back by the province) and the Live for Local Rally. “It's still a new government, (and) they're only months into their mandate,” said Martell. “And while they have been engaging with businesses to a certain degree, there's a lot more work that needs to be done to put more plans in place that will help our economy rebound. And we look forward to working with them on developing those plans.” The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Restaurants Canada sent a letter to all premiers on Dec. 21 calling for financial support, citing the worsening situation. Houston said last Friday that the provincial government is listening to the concerns of business owners. "We see the need and we want to help … we need to also understand that no two businesses are the same,” he said, citing the tiers of grants. “I know in the past, funding from these types of programs hasn't come fast enough. And we're working both internally and with Dalhousie (University) in the hopes of speeding things up this time around. The pandemic is not over. And as we go forward, we will work with the business sector to be flexible, and to understand the ongoing impacts on their operations, and we will support them.”