Hamilton businesses say Ontario’s latest round of COVID grants are slow and confusing
Some Hamilton businesses say Ontario’s shortlisting process for its latest round of COVID-19 grants is confusing, ambiguous and has made them wait weeks for an answer.
In January, the province released another round of $10,000 grants to support small businesses struggling under Omicron-era restrictions. The province told businesses that qualified last year not to reapply under the new program, saying it would instead pre-screen them to verify their eligibility.
But Ben Bowen, who runs music lessons for preschoolers under his trade name Mr. Ben’s Music, said the process seemed “intentionally ambiguous”.
“It could mean pre-approved or pre-denied,” he said.
There was also no way for him to track the status of his application, he said, because the portal still showed “processed.”
“I waited and waited,” he said. “I checked and checked.” Eventually, he tried his local MPP’s office.
This is the third $10,000 grant following the previous two rounds of Ontario Small Business Support Grants announced last year.
Suddenly ineligible despite having obtained the grant before
“Our government knows how important it is to support small business owners during such a difficult time,” Nina Tangri, Ontario’s Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, said in a news release. hurry.
But those words no longer ring true for Bowen, who was denied support this time around despite qualifying for both rounds last year.
After a follow-up from the MPP’s office, Bowen soon received a call from the department’s Small Grants Escalation Team.
Bowen said the provincial employee mentioned that the Ministry of Economic Development and Job Creation made the decision and that the eligibility criteria for this round had changed.
“She was sorry that the eligibility criteria ruled me out and there was no way to appeal, and there was no way to reapply,” he told CBC, noting that the conversation had escalated due to his frustration.
“Why was I suddenly ineligible when I was just as affected?”
Mixed messages about eligibility
Emily Perry, owner of a vegan restaurant called Planted in Hamilton, received the previous two grants. She also contacted the MPP’s office for help.
For a month, she says, there was no communication from the government. So she reapplyed and the government said she was not eligible.
Before contacting the MP’s office, she said, she tried emailing and calling the helpline number on the grant’s website. “They said they couldn’t discuss details of a business,” she said.
Perry then received an email in late February saying her business was approved and she needed to confirm some details.
“Things had changed since my first contact with my MLA,” she said.
“Part of the problem is that they told everyone it would be February, but they didn’t say when, and I mean, it was seriously the last day of February when I got this email. -mail.”
Perry said she received her scholarship on March 18 and “it’s a huge relief.”
The ministry thanks people for their patience
Kwok Wong, spokesman for the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, said there was “a high volume of applications” but the province thanks “all applicants for their patience.”
“We know the pandemic is having a huge impact on small businesses across the province and understand the extreme sense of urgency they are feeling. »
“As of Monday, March 14, the Ontario government has provided more than $137 million to more than 13,000 eligible small businesses across the province through the Ontario Small Business Relief Grant.
Anna Muzzin runs Steeltown Ashtanga Yoga Studio. She is still waiting for a yes or no from the government after losing “between 50 and 75%” of her clientele during the closures.
She has obtained the two previous grants. With the first, she applied. With the second, “you didn’t reapply or anything, they just assigned it to you.”
Muzzin said she expected the same for this round, but it’s March and she still hasn’t heard anything.
“They need to be honest about what’s going on and communicate it to businesses so they can be prepared to make other arrangements,” she said. “It’s so opaque.”
In an email to CBC News, the department said it “(encourages) all businesses to check their spam or junk mail folders if they are expecting it, but have not yet received an email. e-mail from the ministry”.
“Applicants with specific questions about their application may contact ServiceOntario at 1-855-216-3090 or [email protected]”