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Saskatchewan small businesses still falling through cracks of federal, provincial supports

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WATCH: Local businesses are facing tough choices as many don’t qualify for federal support and provincial help is limited – Jun 4, 2020

Some small businesses in Saskatchewan are still struggling to access federal financial assistance and provincial grants — supports owners say are crucial to survive reopening.

The owners of NICO Lady + Baby reopened their Regina clothing store on Monday, but told Global News their revenues are worse than when they were in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not business as usual by any means. I would say we were busier the first day opening this store nine years ago,” said Nicolette Hunter, who co-owns the business with sister-in-law Nicole Hunter.

“We’re finding the online sales are fewer, we’re not getting as many phone calls about those sales and we’re not also seeing the numbers of people returning to the physical space and that’s really difficult.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan earmarks $50 million in aid to small, medium businesses during coronavirus pandemic

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Hunter said this comes on the heels of being denied a loan through the federal government’s Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), which would provide an interest-free, partially forgivable loan of up to $40,000.

The owners told Global News they switched banks in mid-March to ensure an automatic rent withdrawal would not go through, following uncertain communication with their property owner.

In late March, the federal government announced the CEBA, which included a requirement that eligible businesses have an active chequing/business account opened “prior to March 1, 2020.”

“So when we applied for the CEBA loan through Conexus Credit Union, we were declined even though our business is eight and a half years old, and we have all of our 2019 T4 Payroll information as well,” Hunter said.

“Without any additional supports out there, you know, it’s looking more grim as the months progress.”

The business owners said they asked the bank if they could appeal that decision with financial records, only to learn there was no formal process and they would have to contact their local Member of Parliament.

Hunter said they reached out to Regina-Lewvan MP Warren Steinley, but after not hearing from him directly, wrote letters to federal ministers as well one of whom responded they received the message in less than 24 hours.

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Steinley told Global News Thursday he heard from Hunter — whom he spoke with directly after being interviewed for this story — and between “50 to 100” small business owners with similar concerns.

The owner of Klimerz Indoor Playland say the business isn’t eligible for CEBA, and they can only reopen for business once social distancing restrictions are lifted. Dave Parsons / Global News

“We’re still pushing the government to have an appeals process to understand that businesses do have changes and the criteria should be able to be a little more fluid,” Steinley said.

The MP said a number of concerns are stemming from new businesses — those that opened in late 2019 or early 2020 — because payroll and revenue requirements often exempt them from CEBA.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Conexus receives 700 applications, processes $28M through CEBA loan program

Klimerz Indoor Playground in Regina falls into that category.

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Owner Ryan Scheuer opened the business on Jan. 20, only to close it less than two months later due to COVID-19.

“It’s been tough. It’s obviously a challenge to keep the rent and other financial obligations paid and whatnot,” he said.

“Without any additional supports out there, you know, it’s looking more grim as the months progress.”

A community member who knows Ryan organized a GoFundMe campaign to support the business, which can only reopen in the still-undated Phase 5 of the Re-open Saskatchewan Plan.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Large gatherings in Saskatchewan not likely until 2021 says top doctor

“It’s very heartfelt, and so many members of the community have already donated. It shows you that community is the backbone to supporting these businesses,” he said, adding that other businesses should consider crowdfunding campaigns in this trying time.

Scheuer is receiving 75 per cent rent relief from his landlord, who applied for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program (CECRA) – support the owners of NICO Lady + Baby aren’t sure they will receive from their property manager.

Additionally, Scheuer is receiving a second $5,000 grant through the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment Program (SSBEP).

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As a Phase 2 business, Nico Lady + Baby isn’t eligible for a second SSBEP grant, despite still incurring COVID-19 related costs.

READ MORE: Kingston small business owner says the CECRA program should be in the hands of renters to apply

“The provincial government is under the impression that because we’re open, we’re no longer affected by COVID health regulations but we are,” Hunter said, pointing to new Plexiglas sneeze guards, bottles of hand sanitizer and masks for customers.

Regina Rosement MLA Trent Wotherspoon echoed those concerns, adding the Opposition NDP are continuing to call on the provincial government to make amendments.

“It shut out far too many businesses from the start, and now we see the second phase of that program shutting out many local businesses that are directly impacted and devastated by COVID right now,” Wotherspoon said.

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In an email statement to Global News, the Saskatchewan government listed its current small business supports including SSBEP, PST remittance relief, interest waivers for Crown utilities, the Together We Stand program and measures from the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board.

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The province added it encourages clients to apply for federal programs.

The government of Saskatchewan did not provide an answer to Global News on whether it was aware of the challenges facing Phase 1 and 2 businesses exempt from the second SSBEP, nor whether they had a plan to address it.

There was also no answer to why the phases were excluded from the second SSBEP.

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