Ontario Small Business Support Grants lack support for local businesses

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Businesses in the Kingston area are experiencing difficulties and delays when applying for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. When they need help or have questions about the grant, many say they are left floundering after calling the so-called helpline.

Launched in January, the Ontario Small Business Support Grant provides direct financial support to eligible small businesses that were required to close or significantly restrict services under the Province-wide Shutdown that came into effect in December 2020, the Province said in a media release dated Thursday, Mar. 25, 2021. Small businesses who have been determined as eligible recipients of the grant during the first round will automatically be entitled to a second payment in an amount equal to the first payment they receive. They will not need to apply again to receive this additional funding.

Applications closed for the second round of funding provided by the Ontario government on Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021, but local business owners say the funds are not forthcoming.

While most who qualified for the first round received their funds in about two weeks, that time frame has passed for the second round, with no one suggesting their funds have been deposited.

Applying for this funding was not overly difficult, according to business owners, but following up with the government about the status of applications or to ask questions has been downright awful.

Mohamed Hussain, owner of Jiffy Grill, received the first round of support during the second week of March, after applying at the end of January.

“That was after five or six calls to the ministry helpline where they wouldn’t bother even getting my business info to look up the status of the application,” Hussain told Kingstonist. “I was told that, because I have two operating businesses with two different business numbers, that only one would qualify. It took six or seven e-mails/calls to Ian Arthur’s office for guidance, before we got it.”

Because the second round was granted to first round recipients, Hussain was automatically included. “We were picked to be part of a ‘random audit’ of businesses that had to explain what our business was to get the money again,” he said. “I had to fill out another form saying what type of business we were. It wasn’t anything too detailed, but it was just an inconvenience that I didn’t understand the need for. The initial application process was fairly detailed and this seemed very redundant.”

Hussain is still waiting on the deposit of funds from this second round of the grant.

The franchise owner of Manchu Wok in the Cataraqui Center, who wished to remain anonymous, is still waiting on details from the government on why her first found application was denied.

“I am pretty sure I qualify because other franchises in the brand got the grant, and other restaurants in the Cat Centre also got the grant,” she told Kingstonist in an email. ”The Ontario government hotline told me they would email me to say why I was denied, but it has been more than two months and I have not had any emails from them.”

“I called the helpline many times. They only told me to wait for the email, but I feel like I will never receive this email explaining why I was denied. It is quite disappointing, since they are handing out the second round and we are not even sure what is happening to our first round of the grant,” she said.

Frustrated by the lack of communication, she took her situation to Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

“I contacted the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, and they told me to continue to call the Ontario government to see if I get lucky and that operator can help me,” she explained. “I told the Kingston Economic Development Corporation my situation, and from their understanding, I should qualify for this small business grant too.”

Other businesses in the area report receiving up to the $20,000 maximum for this grant during the first round within a reasonable timeline, but calls to the helpline provide no support.

One business owner, who wished to remain anonymous said, “When I called to ask they told me ‘It is coming, but unsure of exactly when.’ I am in a good position where I do not need this money, but some owners NEED this and need it now. The second roll-out has been a long wait with no clear answers.”

Carrie Whalen-Morin of Young Artists of Kingston applied for the first round of grants earlier this year and was approved. However, she recently found out that the government sent the check with the wrong name for the account and the bank rejected it in February.

“Naturally, neither the government nor the bank actually told us what the problem was,” Whalen-Morin shared. “Now we’re in limbo. The money was supposed to be deposited sometime in February. We’ve been calling and calling the helpline twice a week and we can’t get anywhere. We have been escalated three or four times, but have never been phoned or emailed back regarding our issue. Only last week were we able to speak with someone from Tier 2 customer help. Now, we have to wait at least another week before we get an email to edit our banking information and then an unknown amount of time until the government tries to send it again.”

The most frustrating part is the customer service, Whalen-Morin said. “They can’t tell you anything other than to wait; if you’re lucky, your issue will be escalated, but that doesn’t really do anything, either. Once we get our first payment, we’re hoping the second round will be smoother.”

Pauline Timmerman, a local esthetician, had a similar experience. She was told she qualified for and will receive the first round grant funds, but no money appeared.

“I am still waiting on the first round grant which was approved on February 9. I was notified via email that I would be receiving the funds in 10 days. It has been close to three months and still haven’t received any form of business support,” she said.

“I have called the help line numerous times and they informed me that there is no way for me or them to know when I should expect the funding.” 

Some of these businesses have contacted MPP Ian Arthur’s office, and say the office is receptive to their problems. Kingstonist reached out to the MPP’s office for comment, but had not received response at time of publishing.

After publication, Jack Sullivan, the press secretary for the office of Hon. Lisa Thompson, who is the current Minister of Government and Consumer Services, reached out to Kingstonist with further information.

“As of April 20, 2021, 733 businesses in the municipality of Kingston alone have received $12.4 million through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant,” Sullivan said, echoing that many local businesses had success with the first round of grant funding.

He went on to say that applications that are incomplete or contain incorrect information will take longer to process, and the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade is continuing to work with eligible businesses to correct errors and obtain information necessary to completing their application.

According to Sullivan, businesses are also able to check the status of their application by visiting https://www.app.grants.gov.on.ca/msrf/#/ and inputting their Authorization Number and CRA Business Number at the bottom of the page. 

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