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Jagadish Govindar cooks at a Maurya East Indian restaurant in Dundas, Ont., on Jan. 28.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

More than two months after Ontario small businesses were forced to shut their doors while the COVID-19 Omicron variant surged, thousands are still waiting for promised relief funding from the province.

Advocacy group SaveHospitalityCA founder John Sinopoli says he’s heard from dozens of owners who haven’t received the $10,000 grant introduced for small businesses such as restaurants, indoor entertainment venues and recreation facilities that were ordered to close in January for just shy of a month.

Mr. Sinopoli, who co-owns three restaurants through Ascari Hospitality Group, said the money is urgently needed to pay staff and get supplies now that these businesses are allowed to reopen to full capacity.

After confirmation from the province that his application was being processed, Sinopoli said he hasn’t received any updates or a timeline for when the funds can be expected.

“We took the hits and now when they say, okay, we’re going to give you 10 grand – which frankly is an insult in terms of the amount of money – we don’t even get that,” he said in an interview. “Everyone is on a knife edge struggling and there’s no help.”

Responding to concerns about delays, Ontario Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Nina Tangri said on Tuesday that about $98-million has been sent out to more than 9,800 businesses and another 8,884 applications are currently being processed.

Ontario introduces grant for small businesses forced to close due to COVID-19 restrictions

When the third iteration of the grant program was announced, the government said small businesses that had received the first two rounds during earlier waves of the pandemic would be prescreened and receive an e-mail about continued eligibility.

Newly eligible businesses are required to apply, and have until March 11 to do so. The province said it would take about 20 days to respond to new applicants.

Of those businesses still waiting, Ms. Tangri couldn’t speak to timelines for specific applications, but said the province is working to get the money out as quickly as possible. She said there isn’t a cap on the amount the province will dole out and all eligible businesses will receive funding.

Ms. Tangri noted some businesses who were eligible for grants in the first two rounds wouldn’t be this time around if they weren’t required to halt operations under the January provincial health order. She said prescreened businesses still need to provide banking information and respond to questions to confirm they qualify; failing to provide such details could result in a delay.

Some business advocates are calling for more widespread support, saying the grant program doesn’t go far enough in terms of who can apply.

Businesses are only eligible if they were mandated to close, have fewer than 99 employees and experienced a revenue decline of at least 20 per cent. Affiliated businesses owned by one group are only eligible for one $10,000 grant and can’t receive money if one of the businesses was allocated funds through the tourism and travel grant last year.

Ryan Mallough, Ontario senior director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said restaurant suppliers, event caterers, and retailers hit by capacity limitations should also be eligible for support because they lost a significant amount of revenue when restrictions were imposed.

“The government should have recognized that the impact of their order and their rules went beyond the individual businesses that they were actively closing and impacted the businesses that feed into those and they should have gotten access to the grant as well,” he said.

Ontario sent out $210-million in COVID-19 relief to ineligible businesses: Auditor-General

Opposition NDP finance and treasury board critic Catherine Fife said this round of funding is crucial to get businesses back on their feet and able to hang on until the anticipated summer boom.

“At this stage in the pandemic, this government should have learned their lessons from the first two rounds,” Ms. Fife said. “Restaurants have said they just need to get to patio season so they feel they are definitely at the end of their rope and losing patience for good reason.”

In the first two rounds of funding, Ontario’s Auditor-General found $210-million was distributed to 14,500 ineligible businesses and the government made no attempt to recoup that money.

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