Provincial grant for self-employed workers still bypasses some small businesses

Opportunities New Brunswick announced a one-time $2,000 grant for independent businesses on Wednesday, the first such offer since the pandemic began.

Fredericton hair salon owner Lindsay Morrison says it was about time.

“I mean it’s something, so it’s good,” Morrison said.

But there are still barriers for the self-employed, she said.

Arlene Dunn, minister responsible for Opportunities New Brunswick, said the Self-Employed Lockout Fund was triggered by an outcry from small business owners who were not getting the support they needed.

“We’ve heard from a number of small businesses that are very concerned that the federal grant program in place right now isn’t enough to support their loss of revenue.”

Sole proprietorships only

The $2,000 grant is the first offered by the province that does not require businesses to have between 2 and 99 employees.

To qualify, a business cannot have employees and must earn $30,000 in revenue per year.

Dunn said the income threshold was chosen because the federal government is already meeting the needs of businesses earning less than $30,000 through the Canada Lockdown Workers Benefit.

This offer, for all workers in Canada whose employment is interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions, provides $300 per week, or about $270 after tax.

The new subsidy still does not help businesses that have one or fewer full-time equivalent employees.

“It’s exclusively for the self-employed, so as long as they’re self-employed and meet the eligibility criteria, they can apply,” Dunn said.

Dunn said she estimates about 2,000 businesses will qualify for the New Brunswick grant.

Eligible businesses can expect to receive the money up to 10 days after applying.

A barrier from the start

Self-employed business owners had to rely on the CERB program at the start of the pandemic and, until today, they could only access the Canada Lockdown Workers Benefit.

Last week, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced the province would enter a two-week lockdown forcing hair salons, gyms and entertainment centers to close.

At the same time, he announced the Small Business Recovery Grant Program, which would provide grants of up to $10,000 to small businesses employing between two and 99 full-time equivalents.

Louis-Philippe Gauthier of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the new provincial grant is a step in the right direction, but thinks businesses with one employee should also qualify. (Michel Corriveau/Radio Canada)

The requirement has left a big void in support for businesses in need, said Louis-Philippe Gauthier, senior director of legislative affairs for the Atlantic provinces at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Some (companies) are structured with a self-employment perspective, employing employees on a contract basis,” Gauthier said.

“Even if a business has only one employee, it is still a business and should be eligible.”

Gauthier said the new grant for self-employed businesses is a step in the right direction.

‘It is not enough’

Morrison, owner of Mudita Hair Bar, said the freelance business grant still presented hurdles.

“It still makes people ineligible because the $30,000 for self-employment might not be available to everyone,” she said.

Morrison said the $2,000 grant will be enough to pay his bills, but his overhead costs are lower than most.

“It is not enough.”

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