Commercial rent aid program falls short for small businesses: CFIB

Business owners' assessment of COVID-19 assistance measures reveals program is 'not working for anyone'

Commercial rent aid program falls short for small businesses: CFIB

No one can accuse the Canadian federal government of sitting idle during the pandemic crisis, particularly when it comes to measures aimed at supporting the country’s economic survival and recovery. But that doesn’t mean all its aid programs have been effective or helpful.

In a poll of small-business owners, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) found that while a modest majority have used the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program (CECRA) has been severely underutilized.

Specifically, 60% of small-business owners in the poll said they are taking on CEBA loans, and 55% said they were availing of CEWS. However, only 15% of small business tenants said they have used the CECRA program.

That trend was echoed when participants were asked to rate how helpful the programs have been for them. CEBA and CEWS were rated as “very” or “somewhat helpful” by 69% and 67% of respondents, respectively, while only 20% said the same for CECRA.

According to the Government of Canada website, over $613 million in rent support had been extended to 63,000 small business tenants as of July 30, and the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation “is working with large property owners to help provide CECRA to more than 20,000 small businesses.”

But as reported by numerous news outlets, those disbursements fall far below the $2.5-billion budget earmarked for the program. The program has also been criticized as being too complicated, as it puts the onus on commercial landlords rather than tenants to apply.

The CECRA program, which currently includes the months from April until August, covers half the monthly rent costs for eligible small businesses. Commercial property owners are expected to pick up 25%, and the tenant will foot the rest of the expense.

In a statement, CFIB President Dan Kelly commended the “helpful adjustments” that the government made to aid programs in response to small-business owners’ concerns, including expanding access to the CEBA loan program two times.

“Unfortunately … far too many firms remain unable to access CEBA loans, despite a mid-May promise by the Prime Minister to extend these loans to new firms and those without business bank accounts,” Kelly said.

He also panned the CECRA program, saying that “[i]t’s not working for anyone– tenants or landlords.” Aside from extending the months for which applicants may get aid, Kelly said, no major adjustments have been made.

CFIB renewed its call for critical changes for both CEBA and CECRA including, among other suggestions:

  • Expanding CEBA access to firms such as those with less than $40,000 in non-deferrable expenses, new businesses, and those without business bank accounts;
  • Expanding CEBA to $60,000 and allowing 50% of the loan to be forgiven upon repayment of the balance;
  • Allowing tenants to directly access CECRA rent support, irrespective of their landlord’s participation; and
  • Providing a sliding scale of rent support under CECRA for those with various levels of revenue losses over the coming months.


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