North

Some N.W.T. businesses can now apply for federal wage subsidy relief

On Monday, applications opened for a $73 billion federal wage subsidy program for businesses that are seeing a drop in revenue because of COVID-19.

$73B federal wage subsidy program applications opened Monday

Rami Kassem, a co-owner of Javaroma in Yellowknife, will be applying for the new federal wage subsidy program. (Submitted by Rami Kassem)

As of Monday, applications are now open for a $73 billion federal wage subsidy program for businesses that are seeing a drop in revenue because of COVID-19.

Rami Kassem is a business owner in the N.W.T. who will be applying for support. 

Kassem, a co-owner of the Javaroma café in Yellowknife, is hoping to receive subsidy support for all of his employees, and will also be applying for the federal rent relief support for businesses, announced on Friday.

"I'd like it if they paid 100 per cent of employee subsidy and all of the rent. Especially in downtown Yellowknife it's very expensive." he said.

The support program covers up to 75 per cent of wages for businesses affected by COVID-19. Businesses of all sizes are eligible if they have suffered a drop in revenue of at least 30 per cent.

Kassem said his sales have gone down by 90 per cent during the pandemic. The business had to shut down one of their locations, reduce hours, and lay off two-thirds of their employees. 

Last week, Kassem attended a meeting with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance because of the "big hit" the business is taking. 

The committee was reviewing the federal government's response to the pandemic, and members met on Thursday via video conference call. They were joined by three business owners across Canada, including Kassem, who was eager to have his voice heard.

"I like to speak loud, very loud. Just to be able to support my business, my family, my community."

Like many businesses in Canada, Yellowknife's Javaroma has had to adapt to knew physical distancing orders during the pandemic. (Submitted by Rami Kassem)

Kassem said the business has already received loans from the territorial and federal government, but he's hoping to avoid too much debt by accessing the additional support.

On Saturday the Northwest Territories Industry Minister Katrina Nockleby pledged support for the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce's lobby efforts with the federal government "to ensure relief programs ... reflect the unique realities of operating in the North."

In a press release Nokleby said that the territorial government's support for small businesses is "more important given our current situation than ever before."

So far, the territorial government has offered businesses an aid package worth $21.5 million, mostly in waived fees, deferred payments and low-interest loans. 

Nokleby said revenues and profits for the small business sector in the North are far below those of comparable companies in southern Canada.

On Saturday Katrina Nokleby, the Northwest Territories industry minister, pledged support for the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce's lobby efforts with the federal government. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

In her statement she said COVID-19 has already had immense impacts on the territory's economy, businesses, and people: "While the magnitude of these impacts is yet to be determined, we know they will exist for all companies, and federal support must be considered through a distinctly northern lens."

As for Kassem, he said overall he thinks the federal government has done a great job in their response to the pandemic and in their support for small businesses so far.

 "They work very fast, they work very hard — it's going great, because without their support … we would be closed." 

with files from Lawrence Nayally