Jennie Stevens MPP, St. Catharines

Government of Ontario

Some small businesses in Niagara still waiting for government COVID-19 support grant

Published on April 14, 2021

Gym owner Matt Reynolds has been exerting a lot of energy lately just trying to find answers about his small business support grant application.

Three months after he applied for the funding to help offset COVID-19 lockdown measures, and weeks after other businesses he knows received money, he’s still waiting.

Even more frustrating, he doesn’t know why.

“Doug (Ford) released that they’re doubling the grant amount a couple of weeks ago,” said Reynolds, whose RX Gym in St. Catharines is closed for the third time due to government restrictions.

“There’s businesses out there that haven’t even received the first lot, let alone the second.”

The province has said it provided more than $1.4 billion in support through the program so far, helping more than 102,000 businesses. Owners can receive between $10,000 and $20,000 to help keep their small businesses afloat through lockdowns.

It’s a lot of uptake for the program. But those that haven’t received money feel they’ve fallen through the cracks and are frustrated by the lack of answers.

Reynolds said in February, weeks after applying, an online portal said his application was approved. In March, he was asked for his banking information. Two weeks later he was deemed ineligible. After followup calls to the government, he said he was told he is eligible, but the system deemed him ineligible because it’s getting too many requests. He was told to check back.

He’s not the only one in limbo.

Helen Scott of Super Plak Inc. in St. Catharines has been trying in vain to talk to someone after making a typo on her application in January.

She switched her April 2019 with April 2020 sales numbers and immediately tried to fix her mistake.

“I must have made, I’m not kidding, 20 phone calls and probably about five emails, maybe more and they said well, I could look at it but I couldn’t change it,” she said.

“I couldn’t reapply and I couldn’t change the number and I couldn’t get a phone call back, or an email or anything.”

Weeks later and three days after her father died of COVID-19, she got a message saying her application was declined — as she knew it would be.

She’s been trying ever since to get the government to let her correct the typo.

Her husband Murray even called the premier’s office and was told to reapply. But Scott said the system doesn’t let a business apply twice.

“It’s a problem across Ontario, it really is,” said St. Catharines NDP MPP Jennie Stevens, whose office is trying to intervene in both cases and others.

“We’ve been able to push for resolutions in some cases, but often we are forced to send businesses to a government email account that never seems to get back to anyone,” she said.

Stevens actually tried to call a support hotline herself after hearing from businesses that they run into an loop of recorded messages.

“I never got through to anyone,” she said. “This government is kicking this can down the road and leaving these small businesses in limbo.”

Stevens raised the issue at Queen’s Park Wednesday during question period, saying she has dozens of examples of confusing eligibly or application errors related to the small business support grant program.

“Premier, will you fix this chaos experienced by too many businesses, take some time to respond to your emails and allow us to help small businesses within our communities so that they have the help desperately needed?” she asked.

MPP Donna Skelly, parliamentary assistant to the minister of economic development, job creation and trade, responded that the government will continue to work with all small business to help them access the funding.

Skelly said there is a high volume of applicants to process. She said all eligible applicants who applied by the deadline will receive a grant once their application has been reviewed and approved.

“We understand the extreme sense of urgency many small businesses are feeling during this very difficult time,” Skelly said.

“We’re working to further accelerate the processing of applications to ensure that businesses get the support they need as quickly as possible and have taken many steps to speed up the process.”

She said that includes tripling the number of public servants that review applications and increasing the resources required to process them in a timely and responsible way.

But Scott of Super Plak said she’s thought of giving up and wonders how many other business owners have.

And Reynolds at RX Gym, which was closed seven months last year, said he’s losing members every day and doesn’t know what it will take to rebuild the business when he eventually reopens.

“This is a full institutional failure within the Ontario government.”

Lynn Robertson, the owner of The Bark Park in St. Catharines, an indoor dog park, day camp and school, said getting the grant will determine whether her business stays open or not.

Like the others, she applied in January.

She said weeks after she applied, she received an email saying there was incorrect information in her application. But it didn’t tell her what the error was and calls and emails to the government’s helpline weren’t being answered.

Two weeks ago, she discovered on her own that she had inputted the wrong business number on the application and it is now in the queue.

Whether she’ll receive money is anyone’s guess.

“It could be months, it could be tomorrow, I just don’t know and so many other business owners are the same,” she said.

“There are people out there who have received the second payment but there’s people like myself who haven’t received the first. And I still might not receive it, I don’t know.”