Sask. government urged to make all small businesses eligible for emergency payments

The NDP Opposition says all small businesses in Saskatchewan impacted by the pandemic should qualify for the province's emergency payment plan.

The small and medium-sized business support grant, first announced in April, does not have to be spent on any specific costs.

Each instalment of the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment (SSBEP) provides up to 15 per cent of monthly sales to a maximum of $5,000.

Some businesses have received up to $10,000 in aid — but only if they have been forced to remain closed by public health order.

Regina women's and children's clothing business Nico Lady + Baby received an initial instalment.

But co-owner Nicolette Hunter says they don't qualify for a second one because they're now allowed to reopen.

Hunter says if that doesn't change, and if they don't quality for federal commercial rent aid, they will be closed by next month.

"So $5,000 now to help us out — or zero dollars and we're gone in July," she said. "I think Premier Moe has to decide which one is more important to him."

Sister-in-law and co-owner Nicole Hunter says it needs to be a program available to all businesses.

"It's not a matter of who is potentially more deserving between the phases," she said. "All businesses from Phases 1 through 4 are seeing the devastating effects that [the pandemic] has taken."

Carey Shaw/Nico Lady + Baby

NDP Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon said the government needs to make the emergency payment program "fair, equitable and inclusive."

"Right from the start, a whole bunch of businesses were shut out because they weren't forced to close down by health order," he said. "But certainly their revenues and their cash flow were devastated."

He said those who were first eligible should remain eligible if their revenues and cash flow continue to be "impacted in a dramatic way" by the pandemic.

"Instead, the provincial government has made this already exclusive program even narrower in criteria and has excluded so many businesses," he said.

Provincial Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison wasn't available for an interview.

But in a statement to CBC, he said the SSBEP is the "best and most fiscally generous support program for small businesses in all of Canada."

Saskatchewan is the only province west of the Maritimes with a grant program to assist small businesses that doesn't restrict applicants from accessing federal supports, he said.

Harrison also said it has been well received by the Regina Chamber of Commerce, the North Saskatoon Business Association and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

When it announced the extension of the program on May 8, the government said it had processed more than 4,700 applications and provided more than $15 million in support to Saskatchewan businesses.