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Business ᐊᐱᒥᐱᐦᑖᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐋᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

How to navigate the bureaucracy of emergency financial support programs

BY Patrick Quinn Apr 24, 2020

A dizzying array of funding programs is now available to help individuals and businesses get through the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hardest part may be to understand which resources are most applicable to different situations for people and organizations.

The First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Economic Development Commission (FNQLEDC) developed a simple web application – at covid19.cdepnql.com/questionnaire – to help. Eligibility for financial support is assessed by answering a few quick questions.

“The idea behind the app was to make it easy for people during this very unusual situation,” said FNQLEDC director general Mickel Robertson. “We felt the information was scattered and it was hard for people to get a good overview of what was available to them.”

After compiling all available measures, they designed a web questionnaire to apply only the information most relevant to each user. Although resources are applicable to all Canadians, the FNQLEDC is seeking clarity regarding uniquely Indigenous situations.  

“We had a lot of questions because of particularities we see among First Nations, like non-taxable income,” Robertson told the Nation. “Now we’re pretty confident that most people will be eligible for these measures. We still have many questions regarding band-owned businesses – we’re still trying to get definitive answers regarding their eligibility for the salary-subsidy program.”

Robertson suggested self-employed people on reserve might have difficulty receiving funds if their taxes weren’t submitted or they’re operating in a “grey area”. The latter may include the Ouwah Store in Chisasibi.

“At this time, there is nothing for a self-employed Native businessperson,” claimed Ouwah co-manager Michel Goyette. “Provincial or federal tax relief on business for Crees are useless – we do not claim taxes to customers since all our goods are sold in the community.”

Indigenous Services Canada has an emergency fund directed towards local governments, however. Indigenous communities and organizations supporting their members living in urban areas will be able to access a $305 million Indigenous Community Support Fund. Leaders have flexibility to address local needs.  

In Eeyou Istchee, Niskamoon Corporation and the Cree Trappers’ Association (CTA) have organized the Emergency Assistance Program for Cree Land Users. The $1.6 million fund will help cover travel and food expenses for hunters and their families going to the bush as Goose Break approaches.

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone,” stated Niskamoon president William MacLeod. 

Allocation of funds will be at the discretion of local CTA offices. With businesses and schools closed, people are expected to stay longer in the bush. 

There are several other funds that individuals and businesses may access. The most widely applicable is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit of $2,000 per month once an Employment Insurance benefit period expires. It was recently expanded to include seasonal workers and students. 

The feds also raised the family allowance by $300 per child and offer a one-time payment for low- and modest-income families of $400 for singles and nearly $600 for couples. 

Self-employed workers with employees can also be reimbursed for eligible expenses related to business-training projects. Meanwhile, income tax-filing deadlines are extended until June 1, with payments deferrable until September. Interest and late fees on payments have been waived for many organizations.

Companies can apply for the Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides a loan of up to $40,000 interest free for one year. A quarter of the loan will be forgiven if it is repaid before 2023. A subsidy covering 75% of employee salaries is also available to small- and medium-sized businesses. 

Quebec put aside $2.5 billion to help companies overcome liquidity issues, while urging customers to buy local through its “panier bleu” digital platform. Included is a $400 monthly incentive for employees of essential services earning less than $2,000 per month. 

With new announcements coming almost daily, it’s important to focus on reliable information sources regarding assistance programs.

“We’re all in what I would call the fog of war,” Robertson observed. “We have to take this daily because the situation is moving fast, and nobody really has control of this. The only control we have is to stay home, take care of our loved ones and stay positive.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.