‘It’s so frustrating’: Small businesses struggling to get money from Ontario support grant

Delays in the Ontario government’s Small Business Support Grant are a big source of “frustration” for many small businesses awaiting funds during the province’s latest shutdown.

The application process for the grant, first announced at the end of 2020, opened in mid-January. It offers between $10,000 and $20,000 to small businesses that were ordered to close or subject to “significant” restrictions because of the provincial shutdowns.

Five months into the grant process, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is reporting that the process of getting the money is not smooth sailing for those in need of help, citing a “significant” number of complaints.

“Even taking into account all the other calls we get in other jurisdictions across the country in our 95,000 members, it’s near the top, if not the top, concern; business owners approved and waiting for their money, still in application limbo, or were denied despite meeting the criteria,” said Ryan Mallough, regional director of the CFIB.

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Read more: Coronavirus — Ontario government now accepting small business support grant applications

Mallough said he is aware the province is trying to address the issue by adding extra staff and that some businesses are starting to get the funding but the process is slow-moving.

“This was a grant launched in mid-January and had businesses apply on day one, that on May 11 are still waiting to hear or are waiting to see money deposited in their account.”

Mallough said no one expects the government’s program to work perfectly, but 14 months into the pandemic, “the clock is running out” for a lot of small businesses that need the help now.

“As of May 10, 2021, over 100,000 small businesses have received their first Ontario Small Business Support Grant payment with over 75,000 businesses receiving their second payment for a total of $2.6 billion in support,” a statement from the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade read.

“Second payments to eligible businesses were processed beginning three weeks ago, which means many small businesses will have already received those payments, with more in the days to come.”

For small businesses in the area like Peel and Toronto, Mallough said shutdowns have been especially hard because they never really came out of the second wave, with some being shut down since November 2020.

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He said many businesses have been left feeling “exasperated” by the lack of resources to reach out for help, saying the only way for them to get information or inquire about issues is through a single email.

“We have heard from businesses who have emailed this 12, 20, 30 times and not heard back so it’s been frustrating the communication has been minimal,” Mallough said.

Jean Coles, who owns three Sports Clips haircutting franchises in London, Ont., is one business owner struggling with the process.

“It’s frustrating. When I call the support number they just ask you to go back and reply to the email, and it’s been over a month, and I have received zero responses.”

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Coles said as one of the first businesses to be shut down, she assumed they met the criteria.

“I received an email my business was not a type of business they were supporting, but then the email went on to detail what they were supporting, and there was my business type,” she said.

“It’s so frustrating when you are trying to get help and asking for help, but the people you are speaking to can’t do anything for you except ask you to reply to the email.”

Coles said she has heard from fellow business owners experiencing the same challenges.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people want to give up and we are all feeling the fatigue of the pandemic,” Coles said.

Coles said she has reached out to four local MPPs in the area where she lives and where her businesses are located and said she has not heard back yet. She is encouraging residents wanting to support small businesses to do the same and push the provincial government to release the funding faster.

A statement from the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade acknowledged the issues small business owners are facing.

“While we made every effort to ensure the application process was as simple and straightforward as possible, any program this necessary and responsive to such demand is going to have its implementation challenges,” the ministry said.

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The statement went on to say the ministry is working on “clarifying eligibility, helping applicants understand the requirements for supporting documentation.”

“We won’t rest until applicants’ questions are answered and eligible businesses receive their payments,” the statement said.

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