Alberta government widens criteria for small business pandemic grant program

·2 min read

The Alberta government has expanded a grant program for small businesses that have taken a large financial wallop during the pandemic.

Jobs, the Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer said the province has lowered the threshold for small and medium businesses to qualify for a grant of up to $5,000.

The government will also offer a second round of grants for affected businesses and will begin taking applications within weeks, he said Monday.

"There's some promising signs ... on vaccines and treatments that are out there that are going to hopefully be available starting early next year," Schweitzer told the legislature. "For all those Albertans who are tired and frustrated, small business owners, we're going to be there with you, we're going to work with you to get through this."

Businesses with fewer than 500 employees previously qualified for aid if they'd lost more than 50 per cent of their pre-pandemic revenue. That bar will now drop to 40 per cent, and businesses that previously applied and now meet the new criteria will receive aid retroactively, said Schweitzer's press secretary, Justin Brattinga. Companies have until Tuesday to apply for the first round of grants.

Within weeks, the government will take applications for a second round of grants until March 31, 2021. Schweitzer said the move was necessary given new restrictions that were imposed on some businesses earlier this month to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Until Nov. 27, group fitness classes are banned and bars must stop serving liquor by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. in parts of Alberta with higher COVID-19 case rates. Those include the Edmonton area, the Calgary area, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Red Deer and Fort McMurray.

Businesses that were eligible during the first round of grants can apply for a second grant, Schweitzer said.

Thus far, the government has spent about $62 million of the program's $200-million budget, Brattinga said. He said 16,513 businesses, co-operatives and non-profit organizations have qualified for the grants thus far, and those businesses employ more than 164,000 workers.

Another 1,727 applications are currently under review, he said.

Most applications thus far have come from the retail, personal services, accommodation and food services and health-care and social assistance sectors.

Organizations can use the grants to pay rent, employee wages, replace inventory, or buy supplies to prevent the transmission of coronavirus, including personal protective equipment and barriers.