North

N.W.T. hands out $1.6M for COVID-19 business loans, but rejects nearly a third of applicants

The Northwest Territories COVID-19 emergency loan program has handed out 61 loans worth $1.6 million during its first wave — but rejected nearly a third of the applications it received.

61 of 84 applicants qualify for emergency, low-interest loans as part of N.W.T.'s pandemic response

Caroline Wawzonek, the N.W.T.'s finance minister speaks during the press conference announcing the territory's financial aid for COVID-19 on March 20th, 2020. (Alex Brockman/CBC )

The Northwest Territories COVID-19 emergency loan program has handed out 61 loans worth $1.6 million during its first wave — but rejected nearly a third of the applications it received.

Of the 84 applicants to the territory's loan program announced last month, 23 applicants were denied. The programs are designed to supplement federal aid programs for businesses struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Those 23 applicants who failed either had poor credit, failed to have a valid tourism licence or were not able to demonstrate they needed the loan, explained Drew Williams, a spokesperson for the territory's Industry, Tourism and Investment Department.   

Here's a look at the numbers: 

(N.W.T. Industry, Tourism and Investment Department )
 

Payments for successful applicants are beginning this week, Williams said. 

Meanwhile, all 82 requests for loan deferrals to the territory's Business Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC) were approved. The next deadline to apply for that program is April 24. 

Industry Minister Katrina Nokleby and Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek announced the loan and deferral program last month, as part of the government's first wave of economic relief amid COVID-19. 

Since then, the total aid from the territory has risen to $21.5 million, mostly in the form of waived fees and deferred loan payments. 

Uptake from businesses for the loan program was lower-than-expected and a second round of loans will begin shortly, possibly with expanded criteria to allow more businesses to qualify, Industry Minister Nokleby said in an interview Tuesday, citing eased residency restrictions as an example. 

"As long as we still have funding available, we will continue to be giving it out. That's the next step," Nokleby said. 

WATCH | Ministers announce N.W.T.'s first COVID-19 relief program

 

But the rejections seem to contradict these statements, and what Wawzonek said last month in the press conference announcing the funds.

"Our goal is to not be restrictive, so people who need the money can actually go and access it in as many ways as possible," Wawzonek said on March 20.

"The idea isn't to be particularly strict or to have people to have to go out and get a whole bunch of documentation in order to be eligible," she said.

"We want to be able to help, and be responsive and not be too difficult about it."

Nokleby responded to this on Tuesday — that she did not have enough information to speak about the rejections in detail, but staff at the BDIC tried to accommodate as many businesses as possible.

She said there is an appeals process available to rejected applicants. 

"If anyone did feel they weren't evaluated properly, they would definitely have an avenue to dispute that," Nokleby said. "We're open to working with companies who felt they shouldn't have been denied."  

The financial aid from the territory is in addition to existing federal programs, including a $130-million package for the North that's been announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

On Monday, the federal government also released details on its Northern Business Relief Fund, which promises eligible northern businesses non-repayable grants between $2,500 and $100,000. 

The grants are designed for small and medium-sized businesses that are having difficulty staying afloat, with priority given to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. The money can be used for fixed costs, like rent, mortgage, utilities and insurance — some of the main areas business owners have flagged as needing help. 

More details on how to apply are posted on CanNor's website.

Nokleby encourages business owners in the territory to apply for this money, and hopes it will fill gaps that currently exist in federal and territorial aid packages. She added that she's in continued talks with federal ministers about future aid programs as the pandemic continues.

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