Manitoba artists, photographers and more home businesses now eligible for $5K COVID-19 grant
Premier extends Manitoba bridge grant to small home-based businesses weeks after leaving them off list
Small business owners in Manitoba who operate out of their homes will now have access to COVID-19 financial supports previously not available to them.
Beginning Wednesday, a range of home-based businesses will be able to apply for a grant equal to 10 per cent of revenues of their most recent calendar year, up to $5,000, through the Manitoba bridge grant.
Small business owners criticized the first phase of the program last month for omitting professions such as photography, event planning, artists, tradespeople and other small businesses without a storefront.
Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday the second phase will extend to those professions and more.
"Not all businesses operate a storefront," said Pallister. "But these businesses are making sacrifices, too, and so we're going to expand the Manitoba bridge grant to include home-based businesses who've seen their market and their source of income greatly reduced because of public health orders."
Extended health orders
Pallister made a series of announcements Tuesday, including a confirmation that Manitoba will get more doses of the Moderna vaccine than previously expected.
He and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin also extended provincewide public health orders into January that outlaw indoor gatherings over the holidays.
Pallister said the move to broaden the bridge grant supports comes after consultation with a variety of provincially-elected officials.
The bridge grant isn't a loan; applicants who are approved get to keep what they're allotted without having to pay it back. Businesses can use the support as they see fit, Pallister said.
The first phase was announced Nov. 10, about two days before code red restrictions under the province's pandemic response system came into effect, forcing widespread closures of businesses and non-essential services.
During that round, potential applicants included restaurants, bars, recreation and sports facilities, theatres, museums, charitable organizations, non-profits, faith organizations and more forced to close their doors this fall amid surging COVID-19 cases and accompanying restrictions.
A variety of home-based business owners left out of that round pushed back.
'How could we be overlooked?'
Connie Kusie, owner of event planning business Harlow Events, applied for the first round of the grant and was rejected. Kusie said the rejection, after the event industry was decimated by the pandemic, was like a "slap in the face."
"We contribute to the economy. We pay our taxes. We are helping," Kusie said Tuesday.
"Our industry was kind of left behind. We were the first to shut down. We will be one of the last industries to recover. … How could we be overlooked?"
Kusie officially launched her business in February, just weeks before the pandemic hit Manitoba. Nine months later, she said it's a miracle she's still holding on.
"It put every single person in my industry in a really difficult position and I pretty much lost my entire income for that year," she said. "What was going to be a successful year, everything kind of went down the drain."
After she learned she was rejected for the initial bridge grant and speaking to others in the same position, Kusie was one of the many small business owners who pushed back against the government's plan.
In recent weeks, she started hearing positive signals from government and from other business owners, some of whom received approvals for grant applications that would have previously been rejected. Last week, Kusie decided to reapply, too — despite a lack of hope for success — and learned on Friday she'd been approved.
Even then, Kusie said it wasn't until the funding appeared in her account on Sunday that relief set in.
"[I] almost spit out my coffee," she said, laughing. "It was a huge sense of relief, and it was a huge sense of, OK, we did it … we got through and our voices were heard."
Kusie's husband, Will Jakobson, also owns a small business, Swell Creative. Jakobson will soon submit his own application for the funding, although the couple isn't certain he'll be approved.
While she's happy the funding is now in place, Kusie said the uncertainty and long wait caused panic for some in the industry, and she feels it could have been handled better by government.
"No small business should go unnoticed," she said. "There's so many of us out there, regardless of what industry you're in, that do contribute to our local economy. So to be overlooked, and to feel the sense of our government not caring … it was a huge setback."
Liberals see 'wrinkle' in grant
Pallister alluded to discussions with political opponents at the Manitoba Legislature as helping to inform the shift, said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.
Liberal Members of the Legislative Assembly Cindy Lamoureux (Tyndall Park) and Jon Gerrard (River Heights) were among those advocating for an expanded program, said Lamont.
He said one "wrinkle" that appears to have been inserted in the latest round of the grant is that it is limited to 10 per cent of the business owner's income in the previous calendar year.
"I actually don't think that limit should be in place; maybe that's another letter that we're going to have to write," he said. "But the fact that the bridge grant program is happening is important, that it's expanded is a positive move.… We have to be grateful even if it's very late."
The president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce said he too is grateful.
"There are a lot of small businesses struggling, especially with the recent shutdowns," Spencer Day said in a statement. "This is a welcome adjustment to the program."
The second phase opens to applicants at noon Wednesday on the province's website. The deadline to apply is Dec. 31.
Eligibility requirements state only Manitoba-based businesses can apply. They must have been active as of Nov. 9, and had a valid business number as of then.
More than 6,300 businesses applied and secured over $31 million in supports through the bridge grant so far, said Pallister.
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | Dec. 8, 2020:
With files from Aidan Geary