Ontario promised aid for small businesses. Months later, many are still waiting for help to come
More than 100,000 business have received grant money since January, the province says
After a devastating year for small businesses, many in Toronto have yet to receive financial aid promised by the provincial government nearly four months ago that was intended to help ease the burden of pandemic lockdowns.
Some say applying for the Small Business Support Grant has been a frustrating, convoluted ordeal that's left them hanging.
Steve Jones, owner of a company called Quay Communications, said he applied for the program just after it launched in January.
Jones has been dipping into his personal finances to keep his public speaking and training business afloat until travel and conferences resume. He planned to use the grant money to invest in virtual services.
On Feb. 9, he received good news from the province that his application was approved and $10,000 would be deposited into his account within two weeks.
But that money never materialized, he told CBC Toronto.
Jones has tried to follow-up with the province through phone calls and emails "each slightly more desperate than the last," he said. Nobody has been able to answer his questions about when he will receive the grant and why it's been delayed.
He said he did learn a few weeks ago he'd qualified for another payment, but once again it hasn't arrived.
"I understand they're overwhelmed with requests, but we're into May," Jones said. "It's a huge stress."
Province escalates some cases
Small businesses are eligible for up to $40,000 in funding through the grant program.The province said it has provided $2.65 billion in support, with more than 108,000 businesses having received their first payment and 73,000 businesses their second.
"And 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," said the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade in a statement.
When applicants have missing information, the province said it works to resolve concerns quickly and has created a tiered response that escalates applicants with "more involved" questions.
"Clearly, there is more work to do in that area and we won't rest until applicants' questions are answered and eligible businesses receive their payments," the ministry said.
Business owners 'scrambling,' MPP says
NDP MPP Jessica Bell surveyed 14,000 residents and business improvement associations in her University-Rosedale riding and found 85 per cent of small business owners that applied to the provincial program have yet to receiving funding.
"This funding delay has left many owners scrambling to keep their businesses operating as they endure yet another shutdown," she wrote in a letter to Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy.
"I also heard numerous complaints from business owners who, despite making frequent attempts, have been unable to speak to a representative for details on their application or get clear information on when their grant will arrive."
After a decade of running a successful clothing boutique on Queen Street West, Gaspard owners Jennifer Halchuck and Richard Lyle say they're dangerously close to shutting down for good.
They're holding out hope they'll receive the provincial grant, which they applied to in January, to buy new inventory.
"It would secure the next season and it would help fortify our momentum moving forward," Halchuck said.
But with no updates about their application, they're left unsure where their income will come from and how they'll rebuild.
"We're waiting and waiting and you start to think maybe we're not getting it," Lyle said. "Just put us out of our misery. Are we entitled to it or not?"
LiveWell Health Wellness clinic owner Lynn Taylor said even though her monthly gross revenue dropped by 60 per cent when the province went into lockdown last December, her application was rejected over a technicality.
Taylor is now using her retirement savings to pay rent as she goes through the appeal process for the third time.
She called the grant process "unbelievably unfair."
"In my opinion, these business grants are a complete sham ... a total fallacy."