Application headaches arise with COVID-19 business aid

Farmers can finally apply for COVID-19 assistance through the Canadian Emergency Business Account but some are having difficulty with the online application process.

There are reports of glitches on various financial institution sites, as well as the government part of the application.

Grain Growers of Canada chair Jeff Nielsen said he was disappointed it took so long for farmers to gain access to the program in the first place.

CEBA was announced to help small businesses and expanded May 19 to include farmers who don’t have employees on payroll. The requirement to have $50,000 in payroll expense was removed and farmers were able to provide receipts instead.

However, delays meant farmers couldn’t apply until late June.

Now, Nielsen said farmers are finding issues with the applications. For example, in his own case the form requested a street address, which he and other farmers who live on their farms don’t have.

Others are running into difficulty with the original requirement to have a business account at their bank before March 1. Nielsen said that was changed but is still appearing on forms and holding up the process.

He said he is even hearing from small businesses outside of agriculture that are having similar trouble.

“It’s painful,” he said, adding “It’s really the only thing they’ve announced for ag and it’s still debt.”

The CEBA provides up to $40,000 in interest-free loans, with $10,000 of that forgivable if the borrower pays back the remainder by the end of 2022.

Ottawa said the May 19 change nearly doubled the number of farmers who could apply.

“The changes allow an estimated additional 36,566 farmers nation-wide to access the CEBA, for a total of over 67,000 eligible farms,” said a statement.

If eligible farmers all take advantage of the program, the government said that would provide $2.68 billion interest-free.

Nielsen said he hasn’t heard if the government has any other assistance plans in the works for agriculture.

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