The B.C. government extended the deadline of its troubled small business grant program on Thursday to avoid almost $250 million in unspent funding from disappearing later this month.
Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon announced the grant deadline would be moved from March 31 to Aug. 31, giving businesses five extra months to apply for a large pot of non-repayable money that the province has so far had trouble giving away.
“We are committed to making sure hard-hit businesses can access these critical funds,” he said in a release.
Kahlon also relaxed application rules for the second time, reducing the required revenue loss businesses had to show to be eligible from 70 per cent to 30 per cent.
The move earned immediate applause from the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., which said in a release it appreciates the province’s flexibility. The tourism sector has been pleading for economic help from the province, but complained the grant program was onerous and cumbersome.
The small and medium business grant program was a centrepiece of Premier John Horgan’s COVID-19 economic recovery initiatives when it was announced in September.
But tight eligibility rules meant almost no businesses applied until December when Kahlon overhauled the eligibility criteria. Even then, applications were slow, with the province handing out only $50 million out of a $300 million pot of grant funding this month, almost six months after the program started. The funding had been set to expire March 31, at the end of the province’s fiscal year, and be returned to the provincial treasury to pay down debt.
Kahlon also came under fire this week after it was revealed the program had earmarked $31 million in funding for professional services work to help businesses navigate the application process and design recovery plans. The Opposition Liberals said it was proof the grant program was bogged down by red tape and bureaucracy.
Businesses are eligible for up to $30,000 in non-repayment grants, or $45,000 if it is a tourism-dependent business.