Waiting for a lifeline: Montreal entrepreneurs say emergency loans are behind schedule
MONTREAL -- Normally, Anne Marie Tabao makes her living renting out dresses for special occasions.
2020 hasn’t been a good year for that: weddings postponed, proms cancelled and not much else to celebrate, at least in person.
Tabao’s shop, called La Jolie Robe, had to calose for three months and sales are not exactly bouncing back now.
“A friend just closed her restaurant,” Tabao said. “It's sad because you think you’re next.”
Tabao’s business could be a poster child for a federal government program meant to work quickly to help small and medium-sized businesses stay afloat through the pandemic. But after applying, she hasn’t heard a word a month later.
“I submitted everything and it said [that within] seven to 10 business days you should hear an answer, whether it's an approval or not,” she said.
Ottawa is increasingly admitting they’re having problems with wait times. The program Tabao applied for is called the CEBA, a $40,000 interest-free loan delivered by banks but backed by the government. Of that amount, $10,000 is a forgivable loan.
The eligibility criteria at first excluded many businesses, but it was eventually broadened, allowing Tabao and many others to apply.
But the government doesn’t seem to have been able to keep up with applications. On the website for CEBA the department in question acknowledges to a delay in processing times, though it doesn’t give a timeframe as to when people will hear back.
Export Development Canada, which is running the program, told CTV News that the applications have been flowing in in incredibly high numbers and that the delay should be temporary.
As of July 21, a total of 694,000 applicants have been approved for CEBA and a total of $27.62 billion have been disbursed overall, said department spokesperson Shelley Maclean.
“Recently, the CEBA verification process had to be updated, and as a result, processing of applications has been delayed while the update is completed,” she said.
Midweek this week, she said, the department “anticipates” that the normal process will resume and people will hear back.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says Tabao’s limbo is shared by many and the radio silence is causing a lot of stress.
“It has been a giant fail since that happened,” says Dan Kelly, the president of the federation, about widening the eligibility.
“All of those businesses that were given promises and hope that the CEBA loan program would work for them [ but] the vast majority have not had the money materialize.”
There have been tech glitches like error messages and application problems, he said. And also rejection letters that don’t give specific reasons for the decision. There’s no help available online, people complain, with the contact link leading to a long list of irrelevant government numbers.
“If we're going to offer this lifeline to businesses, for goodness’ sakes we need to make sure this business owner can gain access to somebody that can help them to answer a basic question,” says Kelly.
Tabao is wondering if she’s going to get a lifeline while she still needs it.
Maclean says the department understands that it’s stressful and asks people to be patient for a while longer. “We appreciate any delays are challenging for business owners and we are doing everything we can to expedite the update,” she said.