Sandy Lane Resort owner Rob Berthelot said his business is experiencing severe difficulties due to COVID-19 and he needs government support.

Berthelot said he was glad to see the federal government shift its proposed 10 per cent wage subsidy – which he called an “insult” – to 75 per cent March 27, one of several initiatives the government is rolling out to help business owners during the crisis.

But Berthelot said navigating all the information being disseminated is also a struggle.

“There’s a bit of a lag from the promise to the actual materialization of exactly how it’s going to work,” Berthelot said. “The government is a big wheel that takes a little bit of time to turn. Considering how fast they’ve been moving lately, I applaud them.”

Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale helped business owners navigate the changes with a series of virtual town halls, including for Haliburton March 26 and the whole constituency March 30. Co-ordinated with chambers of commerce, Schmale answered questions about support programs.

Much of the Haliburton town hall featured businesses and non-profits describing how dire the situation is. Schmale said he understands the difficulties.

“Some of you have seen revenues drop to almost zero overnight through no fault of your own,” Schmale said. “It is extremely scary. You all have family.”

The federal government is offering a wage subsidy to businesses who see a 30 per cent drop in revenue, for up to three months, retroactive to March 15. The subsidy will be deducted from payroll taxes and is up to 75 per cent on the first $58,700 of a salary, which could mean payments of up to $847 per week per worker. For each month employers apply, they will have to show a 30 per cent decline in revenue from the same month in the previous year.

The government is also establishing interest-free loans of up to $40,000 for small businesses and non-profits. Businesses can also defer income tax payments until after August 31. GST/HST remittance and custom duties payments are also deferrable until June 30.

“All of these measures put together give business owners, hopefully, a bit of flexibility,” Schmale said March 30. “We need small businesses to be in operation to get our economy up and running.”

However, Berthelot said he is not in a good position to take on more debt through a bank or other loans. Schmale acknowledged that is an issue facing many, adding people are concerned about being behind whenever business can return to normal.

“We do recognize loans are a bit challenging for some. This is just one piece of the puzzle,” Schmale said.

Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce executive director Jennifer Locke said she felt the town hall went well and they plan to have more.

“Participants felt heard and that they felt they have someone in government who is advocating for them,” Locke said.

Berthelot said it is vital the government provides the right help.

“If the government does not find the right aid package for me personally, I will be financially decimated, both personally and from a business perspective,” he said. “They need to understand the significance of this. Small business is what makes the world go round.”

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