Rural Manitoba needs help to come out of COVID-19 alive

“Our communities need us and we don’t know if we will survive this to be here for them.” Samantha Cluett, President, Elkhorn Chamber of Commerce

Business owners in Westman are wondering why they have been left out of the Federal support plan during the COVID-19 crisis. They are speaking up, involving their chamber of commerce and MP.

To safe-guard staff and patrons, all non-essential businesses have been closed. Without financial help to see them through, this is a punch in the gut for business owners. An even deeper worry is that if small businesses, the life-blood of towns and villages, cannot weather this storm, what will this do to rural life?

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Zoey Jebb owner of Ayana Wellness Centre in Virden’s downtown is worried. The innovative health spa was in growth mode since its recent opening in 2019 until the novel coronavirus turned business and the local economy on its head.

“We are not doing well,” said Jebb. “I closed three weeks ago,” she said last week.

“Upon hearing schools would close, I needed to be [home] for my kids. Prior to that, we saw a huge decline in business as government officials told everyone to stay home. We don't qualify for any of the government funding so far as we didn't have $50,000 in payroll last year.”

She hopes she will personally qualify for financial help.

Many owner / operator storefronts in places like Virden, Kenton, Miniota, Oak Lake, Reston and Elkhorn operate with a payroll under $50,000 per year, below the threshold for federal assistance.

Samantha Cluett, president of Elkhorn & District Chamber of Commerce and a business owner, is fuming. She says, “Why not say ‘these loans are available for companies that payout $50,000 a year in payroll’ instead of telling our country that their favorite small businesses are being supported, because we are not!”

She has been talking with municipal councillors, member of parliament Larry Maguire as well as on group chats with fellow business people.

 

“the Conservative team will keep asking these questions and we will not relent until they get it done” – Larry Maguire

 

“If we don’t speak up - many of our small businesses will not survive in rural Manitoba.”

She worries about nail technicians, salon owners, small boutiques, greenhouses and small spas and says, “We are mandated to be closed while qualifying for no relief from the government. Our bills aren’t disappearing. We can defer them but they’ll still be waiting for us. Getting an extension on our taxes is great but we still have to come up with that money without being able to make sales. The service-based industries, our salons and spas, they literally have zero income.”

While restaurants can sell take-out meals and some businesses can market their products over the internet, she wonders, “When the rest of the population is laid off with reduced income - who’s spending?

Cluett says, “As small businesses, we donate to our communities, we pay property tax in our communities, we volunteer in our communities.

“This will destroy rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan if we do not get the proper relief from our government.”

Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire says he has been in contact with Cluett and he acknowledges the eligibility to access the $40,000, zero-interest loan, needs to be changed.

“For the small business loans, we are pushing [government] to drop the $50,000 payroll expense criteria, which is the hold-up with many of the sole proprietors. We have been negotiating with the Liberals behind the scenes… .” Maguire agrees that as it is now, people are falling through the cracks.

He says the eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) also needs some tweaking, “particularly for people who have seen their hours reduced or students who cannot find employment. As of right now, if someone who has seen their hours reduced and is still collecting $1, they are ineligible.”

Maguire calls this a false choice and says, "This makes zero sense, as now business owners will literally have to let go of their staff, even though they could still be employed part-time.”

Maguire states: “the Conservative team will keep asking these questions and we will not relent until they get it done.”

© Virden Empire-Advance