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B.C. business community wary of gaps in new COVID-19 financial support

News of major changes to federal COVID-19 subsidies is being met with wariness in the B.C. business community.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced new measures Thursday that will replace the  Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), which expire on Saturday.

In their place will be the new Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, which will offer a subsidy rate of up to 75 per cent, and the Hardest Hit Business Recovery Program with a subsidy rate of up to 50 per cent.

But as is often the case with major government programs, the devil will be in the details, according to Greater Vancouver Board of Trade president and CEO Bridgitte Anderson.

“There are details we need to see first, because we are concerned there will be some businesses that fall between the cracks, and either will not qualify for subsidies or the scope will be so narrow that there won’t be enough support,” she told Global News.

“We encourage the government to continue listening, to understand if there’s businesses that don’t qualify here and to be open to changes.”

Laura Jones, executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, welcomed the new programs as critical to keeping many businesses afloat.

But she said new, higher thresholds to qualify for the programs — particularly for businesses that aren’t in the tourism and hospitality sector — could leave some operators out in the cold.

Businesses applying for the tourism subsidy will need to show monthly revenue losses averaging 40 per cent, plus a 40 per cent loss in the current month, while businesses applying for the other subsidy will need to show the same, but at 50 per cent.

“Think about your events industries, think about your gyms, your bowling alleys, your dance studios, these businesses have all been hit really hard and they’re likely to fall out of that (restaurant) category,” Jones said.

“So think about that, you’re a restaurant and you’re down 35 per cent and you’re not qualifying for any help right now? And for other businesses you can be down 45 per cent and not qualify for any help, even though there’s still government restrictions in place that are really affecting your ability to make sales.”

The federal government is aiming to stretch the new programs until May 7, 2022, while seeking the ability to further amend them through July of next year.

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