The federal government is providing more aid for businesses, but advocates are calling for support beyond loans.

The federal government announced a range of funding April 17, including $962 million towards regional development agencies and the community futures network. It also announced April 16 it will introduce a program to provide loans to commercial property owners to forgo the rent of businesses for April (retroactive), May and June.

But Haliburton County Development Corporation (HCDC) executive director Patti Tallman said although the additional funding is positive, groups are lobbying to get more non-repayable, or grant, support.

“There’s certainly lots of money that’s going into rural communities which is something we’ve really been advocating for,” Tallman said. “The challenging piece for us as a CFDC (Community Futures Development Corporation), we don’t want to see people go into debt and we’d like to provide them with funding.”

Tallman said they expect to get just under $1 million from the funding. Although details are limited, they assume it will be directed towards their investment fund to provide loans to businesses for the pandemic. She added the HCDC COVID19 loan program – up to $25,000 at zero per cent interest– has had lots of interest and 16 takers so far.

She said businesses are feeling pressure locally, especially given the pandemic is stretching into the tourist season.

“We’re just cutting into our tourism season which is the biggest impact of our whole year. It’s just unfortunate that the small business owner is the one that’s taking the heat,” Tallman said.

Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce executive director Jennifer Locke said the latest government announcements were a win for businesses. She also highlighted the announced expansion to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, with seasonal workers can now more readily access, and the bigger payroll range for the Canada Emergency Business Account, which is now for businesses between $20,000 to $1.5 million.

But Locke said there is some confusion about qualifying for all the different programs. However, she added businesses are innovating quickly during the crisis.

“I find my members are just trying to wrap their heads around what they qualify for,” Locke said. “Overall, they’re just hoping the community will support them now where they can and keep them in their minds as we move forward.”

She encouraged businesses to fill out the online Canadian Survey on Business Conditions, due April 24, to ensure the rural voice is heard.

“We’re a tight-knit community and we’ve weathered hard times before,” Locke said.

Tallman said CFDCs are lobbying for more help to provide for businesses over the next two years, with non-repayable contributions.

“We just hope the federal government is going to keep pushing money towards rural communities,” she said. “We just hope we can assist our rural community to get back into the land of the living. It’s just such a horrible time for everybody.”

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