Canada launches new business rent aid program, expands other coronavirus support

By Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada on Friday announced a round of new and enhanced support for businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including a new rent subsidy program to replace its previous, and much criticized, rent-relief program.

The Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy program will provide direct support to businesses and other organizations that are facing revenue losses, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a news conference. The program will run through June 2021.

The government will also provide “additional, targeted” supports to businesses that are forced by public health order to temporarily close to help curb coronavirus infections, Freeland said.

“As we fight the second wave of COVID-19, public health officials have been imposing new restrictions. That is the right thing to do, but it imposes costs,” Freeland said. “This new targeted support will help businesses get through the lockdowns.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at the same news conference, said Canada is at a tipping point in the fight against a second wave of the novel coronavirus.

Freeland said the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program had been extended to June 2021 and that the Canada Emergency Business Account would be expanded to allow for larger, partially-forgivable loans.

Together, the three programs are expected to cost an additional C$19.6 billion ($14.9 billion) through to December 19, 2020.

Trudeau’s Liberal government said in July that the fiscal 2020-2021 deficit would likely hit C$343.2 billion, mostly due to COVID-19 aid, the largest shortfall since World War Two.

Under the previous rent-relief program, which expired at the end of September, landlords had to apply for a forgivable loan that would cover half of a tenant’s rent. The tenant had to pay a quarter of it and the landlord had to absorb the remainder.

It was budgeted at C$2.97 billion. As of Oct. 7, it had helped some 130,000 small businesses at a cost of about C$1.8 billion, the government said.

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Richard Chang and Paul Simao)

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