VICTORIA -- The province is changing eligibility requirements and the deadline to apply for the struggling Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant, as critics say the funding is taking too long to reach those companies hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victoria’s Red Fish Blue Fish is closed for the season – a shutdown that is longer than typical due to the coronavirus crisis.


“We really struggled last year. The closures in March and April were dramatic,” said co-owner Simon Sobolewski.


Yet when the province announced a grant program to help businesses like theirs, they didn’t apply. Their accountant thought it was more trouble than it was worth.


Now, Red Fish Blue Fish is eager to apply after the province announced changes to make sure more businesses could take advantage of the program. The uptake so far is slow – just $55 Million of the $300 million set aside has reached businesses.


Businesses now have until Aug. 31, 2021 to apply. The original deadline was at the end of this month. Previously to apply, a company had to have lost 70 per cent of its income in March or April of last year. The requirement has now dropped to 30 per cent anytime after March 2020.

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon decribed the government response as "nimble," pointing to previous changes made in late December in response to concerns.

“We have some businesses that have applied and they were not eligible and now we can call them and say they can access the money,” he told reporters in Victoria.

Grants are available for employers who have fewer than 150 employees, and are based in British Columbia. They range from $10,000 to $30,000 with those in the tourism industry eligible for an additional top up of $5,000 to $15,000.

Money is also set aside to help small businesses come up with a recovery plan that’s aimed at helping them overcome challenges brought about by COVID-19. Roughly $31 million has been spent on the administrative work that the opposition characterized as "red tape."


“I think this is about the third version of this program,” Liberal Leader Shirley Bond told reporters. “We are hopeful this will improve the program.”


Likewise, the Victoria Chamber of Commerce is pleased with the changes.


“The province did listen to organizations like this chamber to make changes because money was unclaimed the process was simply too complicated,” said executive director Bruce Williams.


Williams said there’s also a need for businesses who have more than 150 employees. The minister said those in the transportation and tourism industries are meeting with the tourism minister and talks are ongoing with the federal government. He said there would be more to come.