A $50-million relief package is coming for 14,000 B.C. restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses hit hard by the March 30 tightening of COVID-19 provincial health orders.
Dubbed the Circuit Breaker Business Relief Grant, the program will give affected businesses a one-time cash infusion of $1,000 to $10,000 to help with expenses such as rent, insurance and employee wages.
It can also be used to cover unexpected losses that resulted from the sudden shutdown, like the spoiling of food.
"The latest circuit breaker has been particularly hard on small business," said Ravi Kahlon, minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation. "I can't imagine the stress and pressure businesses are feeling today."
Kahlon said businesses not in compliance with the new health orders are not eligible for the program.
On March 30, the province imposed a three-week "circuit breaker," introducing sweeping new restrictions on indoor dining in restaurants, group fitness activities and worship services in an attempt to slow spiking COVID-19 infections.
All food and liquor-serving premises were asked to pivot to takeout or delivery service. Indoor dining was suspended but patios were allowed to remain open.
Indoor, adult group fitness activities were suspended and gyms and fitness centres restricted to individual or one-on-one activities.
Kahlon said the grant is open to eligible businesses of any size that have been in operation since Feb. 1.
Grant applications are expected to open the week of April 12 and close on June 4 or earlier if the funds run out.
The government expects the majority of eligible businesses will receive a grant of $5,000. The program is scalable depending on the number of employees, said Kahlon.
'Band-Aid on a wound'
Aayush Arora, the general manager of Delight Indian Bistro in Vancouver, says he welcomes the support but fears it won't be enough, especially because his business opened during the pandemic.
"It's tough, because we're not getting the amount of support a business would need from the government, which includes the wage subsidies, the rental subsidies, we're not getting any of those, just because our payroll was not on in 2019," he said.
"The $10,000 will help us a little bit, but we have a strong feeling this circuit breaker is going to be extended a month or so, because the cases are up, and we have to continue to respect the government's orders."
Mike Joss, the owner of Gorge Pointe Pub in Victoria, says he is also concerned the benefit will do little to help businesses that have been closed or operating with limited capacity for over a year.
"We're $10,000 down on a regular Friday night right now [compared to] what we'd normally do, so as nice as it is, it's a bit of a Band-Aid on a wound."
To be eligible, a business is required to:
Confirm it has been affected by the recent provincial health orders.
Provide electronic banking information.
Confirm it is registered as a B.C. business.
Produce a business validation document, such as a business licence, liquor licence, notice of assessment or lease agreement.
Confirm majority ownership and operations and payment of taxes in B.C.
Kahlon said businesses impacted by the pandemic in general, but not specifically by the March 30 provincial health orders, have relief available through other programs outside of the one announced Thursday.