As businesses in the Northwest Territories grapple with the aftermath of wildfires, many find the government’s aid measures inadequate to cover their losses.
The NWT government recently expanded its funding program to provide up to $5,000 in grants to help offset operational costs for affected companies.
But some business owners in heavily impacted communities such as Yellowknife, Hay River, and Fort Smith say this amount falls significantly short of their expenses.
Jenn Baerg Steyn, owner of Yellowknife’s Book Cellar, said the $5,000 grant won’t cover the store’s $11,000 rent for September.
“It’s not even going to touch any of the other potential costs that are going to be associated, just depending on how long it drags out,” she said, as the Local Journalism Initiative reported.
Rami Kassem, owner of the independent coffee business Javaroma in Yellowknife, estimated additional expenses of $20,000 for rent alone this month.
“The kind of business we have, to lose $35,000 or $40,000 – it’s too much money,” Kassem said. “To spend that without any income is too much money for a coffee shop.”
He also noted that many businesses in the area are still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, making a fresh economic crisis even more challenging to navigate.
Assistant Deputy Minister of Economic Development Melissa Cyr said the government consulted with local community leaders to understand the needs of NWT business owners.
These conversations helped inform the government’s decision to expand the seed program, which is the source of the new grants, Cyr added.
She advised business owners to examine their business interruption insurance policies “to see what can be covered.”
Businesses included in the Local Journalism Initiative report said they are not eligible for insurance due to reasons that include clauses in their agreements and ineligibility for certain coverage.
They went on to stress the challenges posed by the eligibility criteria for the grants, noting that the seed program allows applicants to include fixed costs like rent and utilities but not salaries.
“I don’t believe it’s the support they’re trying to tout it as, and I do believe it’s going to be incredibly difficult to access,” said Samantha Marriott, owner of Yellowknife osteopathy clinic Radical Wellness.
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