Calgary small businesses welcome federal funding amid COVID-19 outbreak

As many small businesses close their doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains some optimism following additional measures by the federal government to help Canadians and small businesses.

On Wednesday, the government announced $82 billion in funding, including $27 billion allocated to help Canadian workers and businesses.

The government’s funding also includes a wage subsidy to cover up to 10 per cent of an employee’s wage as well as a deferral of income tax payments for businesses until Aug. 31 interest free.

“This is not a stimulus package; this is a rescue package,” Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said. “A stimulus is when you feel you need a boost to the economy. This is to prevent a great depression.”

The funding news was welcomed by Arabella Aseo, owner of Benj Hair Salon in Calgary’s Inglewood neighbourhood.

Following an influx of cancellations over the last week, Aseo made the decision to close her shop for the health and safety of her customers.

“Closing the salon, closing a small business is hard. As a small salon, it’s my life,” she said. “It won’t cover everything, but at least it will cover some of my expenses and my overhead.”

However, Aseo is concerned about whether or not she can keep her business afloat amid uncertainty around how long strict measures will be in place to tackle coronavirus.

“As a small salon, if I close for longer than 15 days, then what about the rent, utilities and overhead expenses?” Aseo said. “I can’t afford to be closed longer than 15 days.”

‘The same boat’

Down the street, Imagine Vintage Wear remains open.

Peggy Rafuse, the store’s owner, said she has tried to remain positive through the economic impact of the pandemic.

“It’s nerve-racking,” Rafuse said. “I guess the only thing is almost everybody is going to be in the same boat.”

Rafuse estimated that she could keep her doors open for three to four months, but closing would take its toll with large debt payments.

According to Rafuse, the package announced by the Trudeau government may be able to help her business weather the storm of the global pandemic.

“I think it’s excellent. It sounds like it’s just going to be a start,” she said. “I felt good about it. I don’t know what it will mean for me personally if I have access to that but it sounds like a good thing.”

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said it is pleased with the package from the feds, but chamber president and CEO Sandip Lalli has reservations about the ease of access for businesses to the allocated money.

The chamber announced work-from-home measures last week, but according to Lalli, officials have been speaking to businesses across the city over the phone, gauging concern and providing advice on how to move forward.

While Lalli admits the aid package is a good first step in the short term, she said there are still concerns about the long-term timeline.

“Today’s announcement was a good Phase 1 start to stability,” Lalli said. “In communication with the business community, what we’ve been hearing is, ‘For how long?’ So we got some indication from the feds that what they’re considering is 12 to 14 weeks.”

According to Lalli, the vast majority of businesses the chamber has contacted over the last week have had to lay off an average of 80 per cent of their staff.

Lalli said she is happy to see a subsidy to encourage employers to keep employees. However, there needs to be another measure in the medium term to justify the decision by business owners to lay off workers to try to button down costs and then determine whether or not they can re-enter the market on the other side of the pandemic, she said.

Ultimately, Lalli said times will be tough, but businesses should not give up.

“It’s worth the wait, worth the optimism” Lalli said. “But right now, it is just week two of really the crux of the crisis of our business community, so just hang tight the best you can.”

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