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Calgary to likely reopen COVID-19 business support program

Calgary will examine ways to use nearly $6 million in leftover COVID-19 reopening support money for still-struggling city SMEs.

Members of the Priorities and Finance committee heard Tuesday that 2,240 Calgary small and medium businesses received roughly $7.022 million in help out of a roughly $13 million budget.

Councillors questioned why all of the money wasn’t given out.

“Are we ever very good at collecting money from people, and we’re not as well set up as an organization to give it back,” said Coun. Evan Woolley.

“Where did we miss the mark because in my mind when we set this program up I thought it would be it would be oversubscribed.”

Erin Chrusch, lead for Business and Local Economy at the City of Calgary, said they did expand the interpretation of the rules to allow for more businesses to qualify.

One of the qualifying criteria was a business must have an active City of Calgary license with operations in the same location since March 2020.

“The most significant single reason an application was refused was because they opened after March 2020, which was after the pandemic restrictions or at least that first tranche of them came into effect,” Chrusch told councillors.

Some entertainment businesses with a kitchen stayed open on the side with a small back door takeout business and thus they wouldn’t qualify for that grant. They only qualified for pub and restaurant grants, which were smaller.

Woolley said that perhaps the city needs to be more flexible in that interpretation. Especially in light of the province’s recent restriction on liquor sales after 10 p.m.

Making the money available again

Mayor Naheed Nenshi put forward a motion to pool the remaining roughly $6 million from the reopening grants into a new COVID-19 Business Support program.

He said the recommendation was very basic but geared toward administration getting money to businesses still struggling.

“During the council hiatus, they’ll (admin) have an opportunity to be nimble, and spend that money on business support as needed,” Nenshi said.

Mayor Nenshi said the biggest issue for him wasn’t a lack of flexibility in the program. He said it was the surprising number of businesses that didn’t apply for free money.

“That’s the thing that surprises me more than anything is regardless of we might have got a few people in the wrong category, the number of people who just didn’t apply,” said Nenshi.

“We’ve got to figure out how we can get to folks when it’s something, it’s this positive and this easy.”

Committee unanimously approved the recommendation to be forwarded to council. It will still need final approval at the Sept. 13 meeting of city council.