FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – With the extension of BC’s Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant program and the easing of requirements to qualify, more local businesses could be eligible for funding.

According to Fort St. John & District Chamber of Commerce executive director Cheryl Montgomery, the chamber is trying to reach out to as many businesses as possible to help educate them and streamline the process to apply.

“To date, we’ve interacted with over 160 businesses, and if you include businesses from last spring, it would probably be well over 200,” says Montgomery.

Businesses in the north have weathered the pandemic’s economic impacts a little better than the south, says Montgomery.

“The south is showing that there’s about 75 per cent impact to businesses, whereas up north we’re looking at about 50 per cent. A lot of our businesses are still doing well. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some that have closed due to COVID-19.”

For businesses grappling with the financial stress of the pandemic, there isn’t much time to sift through the documents to find out of you qualify for grants. Montgomery says the chamber of commerce has a regional business liaison to help make sense of the grant process.

“The regional business liaison is reaching out, making sure that they’re aware of all the funding, training programs, anything that’s available to help them through this.”

Two significant changes to the funding program is the extension from March 31st to August 31st and the percentage of losses required to qualify. Initially, businesses had to prove a 70 per cent monthly loss, where now the threshold is 30 per cent.

Montgomery says the 70 per cent requirement made things difficult for business models funded by large events, which applied to the chamber of commerce.

“We have our membership drive at the beginning of the year, and the rest of our funding comes from events. So our loss didn’t come until a while later when we would have been hosting some of those events. Eventually, we did qualify for some wage subsidy programs, so that worked out.”

Montgomery encourages local businesses to reach out to the regional business liaison, Russ Beerling, to determine their options.

“He can go through probably at a faster pace and be able to determine what type of programs businesses are eligible for, which might weed through a pile of different options faster than a business owner could.”

Resources are also available on the Chamber website.

Montgomery says businesses should make sure they are educated on the pros and cons of grants.

“We want businesses to be really aware of their position and their standing in this COVID-19 situation. Certainly, funding is available if they need it, but we really want businesses to be aware of not taking on too much funding that they don’t need. We don’t want people coming out of this with debt and taxes that they may have to pay back. They need to be aware of the options and the consequences that it will have on their business.”