Small businesses still waiting on money from the last Ontario shutdown

·3 min read
The Ontario government launched a grant program designed to help businesses that had to close their doors in late December 2020. Some business owners say they're still waiting for that money as Ontario embarks on yet another shutdown. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
The Ontario government launched a grant program designed to help businesses that had to close their doors in late December 2020. Some business owners say they're still waiting for that money as Ontario embarks on yet another shutdown. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

Some small business owners in Ottawa say they're still waiting for their first payments from a provincial grant program set up earlier this year to help survive COVID-19 shutdowns.

In January, the Ford government announced the small business support grant as a measure to help businesses forced to close during the 28-day provincewide shutdown that went into effect Dec. 26.

The grant provided eligible businesses with one-time funding of between $10,000 and $20,000.

Then, the Ontario budget presented in March included a second round of payments for businesses that had already qualified for the first round.

But some business owners like Magdi Bazara say they're still waiting for that first payment — and trying to find out when it's coming is proving nearly impossible.

"No one is getting back to me," said Bazara, who owns the 3 Cents² Coffee Shop and Eats to Go restaurant. "I mean, if there is a person to talk to, it would be easier."

Magdi Bazara said one of his grant applications was approved, but he can't figure out why the second one was turned down.
Magdi Bazara said one of his grant applications was approved, but he can't figure out why the second one was turned down.(submitted by Magdi Bazara)

Bazara said he applied for separate grants for each business and was awarded $10,000 for his restaurant. But the application for the coffee shop was pending until March, Bazari said, and then deemed ineligible — despite the fact he was told his paperwork was correct.

Neither the province's help line nor their website has been able to give him any information as to why he was denied, Bazara said.

"If it tells you you're not eligible, then that's it," he said. "Without that kind of help, honestly, I would not be able to continue."

Others in the same boat

Rod Castro, who owns Pubblico Eatery and 10Fourteen, said he's also still waiting for one of his applications to be approved, with the money from the other only just showing up in his account last week.

Even though the province is currently under another stay-at-home order, businesses still have insurance bills and other big costs to cover, Castro said.

"We appreciate that mechanisms have been created. What we need is for them to work," he said.

Restaurant owner Rod Castro said grant programs are appreciated, but they have to work to be useful.
Restaurant owner Rod Castro said grant programs are appreciated, but they have to work to be useful.(Submitted by Rod Castro)

Those sorts of complaints are proving common, said Mark Kaluski, chair of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas.

"We've heard a number of members say that they've been approved, but the money hasn't shown up," Kaluski said Saturday.

"All business owners want a certain amount of certainty. And right now they just don't know what they can count on ... I'd say, you know, frustration is at an all-time high."

Ministry has tripled staff

In an email to CBC, Ontario's Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade said the grant program had helped more than 102,000 businesses as of April 8.

The ministry said applications that require further review or contain incomplete or incorrect information may take longer to process.

It also said it had tripled the number of staff who review applications, and that any business that had not been paid within 10 days of their approval should email them.