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Community Futures investing in help for Quesnel businesses with CEBA loans

Federal deadlines are worrying business community, local help offered
Greg Lawrence, general manager of Community Futures North Cariboo, discusses a local aid package for businesses impacted by CERB repayment deadlines. (Frank Peebles photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

Half a million dollars has been set aside for Quesnel businesses who need help with CEBA pressure.

The Canada Emergency Business Account was a relief fund offered by the federal government during the COVID-19 lockdowns to get the nation’s businesses through that economic crisis. It was even set up to allow businesses a chance to pay only two-thirds of the borrowed amounts back (the maximum was $60,000) if that was accomplished by an early deadline.

However, one economic crisis was followed by another, in some ways related to the pandemic and in some ways a reflection of changed demographics and world conditions since that time. Many businesses never found recovery since COVID-19 beyond just getting through till today. Not only are they unable to take advantage of the discount, they are facing an inability to pay back what they owe by the early 2024 deadline. They may have been saved by the federal government’s loans only to be killed by those same federal government loans.

While many voices in economic and political circles are shouting for the federal government to simply change the deadlines to more realistic repayment times, one local business agency is taking steps to help right away.

During the Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards, Greg Lawrence, general manager of the Community Futures Development Corporation, announce to the goods and services providers of the city that his organization was stepping up at least a little bit to extend the lifeline.

“I do not have a sense (of how many Quesnel businesses will need the help), and I do want to create a sense of urgency about this. My board has set aside $500,000 for this purpose, so it is a first come-first served kind of situation, at this point,” Lawrence told The Observer.

He explained the process involved. It starts with a call to 250-992-2322 and ask to speak with loans manager Siggi Stoldt.

“We would like to ensure that as many businesses as possible, in our region, can take advantage of the forgivable portion of Canada Emergency Business Account loan, and in order to do that, they have to pay out the balance by January 18,” Lawrence said. “What our board has approved is, we will make loans available up to $30,000 to a maximum of 75 per cent of the repayment amount, in terms up to five years. Really that’s just to allow people the opportunity to pay out that CEBA loan, and take advantage of that forgivable portion.”

Former Quesnel resident Graham Stanley is the general manager of the Community Futures branch in Vanderhoof, and he has been sounding the CEBA alarm for months.

“At this moment, it’s difficult to find out who’ll be standing after January, when all the CEBA comes due,” Stanley said to The Observer. “If they (business owners) didn’t take advantage of the early payback and that discount, as of January, they will have to pay back all that money they borrowed from the government over two years, with interest. And if you can’t pay back your CEBA loan, they are referring you to a trustee. So we have to watch like hawks for what happens to the business community.”

Stanley feels the deadlines are artificial lines in the sand, and there is no reason why the federal government couldn’t set the timelines or the consequence rules differently with the stroke of a pen. He is certain that any community’s local economy would be well served by years of extension, not months, in respect for the post-pandemic realities.

“If you nosed around, I think you’ll find a large percentage of all businesses took part in the program,” Stanley said. “The problem is, the world has not gotten with the plan. There has been just enough income, since the pandemic restrictions ended, to barely keep the business going.”

Data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business showed that nationally, “only 18 per cent fully repaid, majority carry outstanding balances, and 7 in 10 yet to begin repayment,” of their CEBA loans. Furthermore, said the association, only one-third of businesses are in a current position to repay, another third will borrow to cover the upcoming deadline and get the discount (one in five of those business owners will resort to home financing to do so), and “the final third unable to secure a loan for repayment.”

This is the second time in the COVID era that the Quesnel branch of Community Futures has offered help to local businesses. Back at the start of the pandemic, they also supplied a loan program to those businesses who were, for whatever reason, unable to obtain the CEBA service.

“As a community development agency, we want to help ensure that businesses can survive and thrive in this community. Making sure businesses can take advantage of that forgivable portion is an important part of that, I think,” said Lawrence. “We’re trying to keep it simple and make it easy as possible for people. We’re here.”

READ MORE: ‘Help is here’: Community Futures B.C. offers critical programs for small business

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Frank Peebles

About the Author: Frank Peebles

I started my career with Black Press Media fresh out of BCIT in 1994, as part of the startup of the Prince George Free Press, then editor of the Lakes District News.
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