Laura Rogerson said she waited, and waited, and waited to receive funding from the small and medium enterprise relaunch grant for her business Bread Love.
“If I would have been relying on that money to keep my business going, I would have had to close,” she said.
On Oct. 29 St. Albert-Edmonton NDP MLA Marie Renaud called on the UCP government to "get the money moving" on the relaunch grant.
Renaud said the NDP learned through a freedom of information request that, as of Oct. 3, there were 4,346 small businesses still waiting to hear back from the government about whether or not they would receive the SMERG funding.
Additional funding through the program was made available this spring to organizations that had to close or curb operations and experienced a revenue reduction by at least 30 per cent due to COVID public-health regulations.
“This money was supposed to help the hardest-hit businesses get through the third wave. But here we are working our way through the fourth wave, and this is unacceptable,” Renaud said.
Rogerson had nothing but high hopes when she signed a five-year lease to expand her St. Albert business, Bread Love, back in December of 2019. Then COVID hit.
“It was a big move to rent a space to feed my passion. But instead of teaching that first class, I wound up arranging to return money to those who had booked classes and who had booked the venue space,” said Rogerson.
Bread Love is one of many hard-hit Alberta businesses that turned to the relaunch grant to help them get through the first and third waves of the pandemic, and Rogerson said she is one of the lucky ones.
“I've survived but there's businesses that didn't make it,” she said.
Renaud is also concerned about the number of businesses being denied funding. Some 4,645 businesses have applied for the grant and been denied funding. Renaud said it’s clear there are major issues with how the grant is being run.
Renaud said business owners are being denied for things such as using the wrong browser or being unaware they needed to update information.
“Other applications were incomplete because it remained in draft mode, and there was no warning system to notify them of the error before the denial,” said Renaud.
In an email, Justin Brattinga, press secretary to the minister of jobs, economy, and innovation, said contrary to the NDP’s claim, no applicants were denied for using the wrong web browser.
“All of the applicants who have yet to receive funding are those who have provided incomplete or incorrect applications and require further contact from the government,” Brattinga said. “We reached out to every single remaining applicant in August and September to complete their applications and have been attempting to get them approved.”
Brattinga said they have supported more than 127,000 businesses to the tune of $725 million across all three intakes of the grant, and the vast majority of applicants were approved for funding within 10 business days.
The government initially launched the grant at the end of June 2020. The last intake of the program ended on June 30.
The program website states they aim to process applications within 14 business days, but application data-entry errors will increase the processing time.
Applications that require manual review may be delayed by six to eight weeks and will be processed in the order they are received based on the date of submission.
Rogerson said she had to wait weeks after she applied to learn they needed more information and, after giving them the information, she continued to wait. In desperation she reached out to the constituency office.
Rogerson said she got the grant five months after her application
“Having to wait so long for the grant has prevented me from moving forward. For example, I couldn't purchase a much-needed mixer. But again, I've been able to keep my staff and pay the rent.”