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Bridge grant extension pleases business community

Commerce stakeholders and business owners rejoiced as the province announced an extension for emergency support, while loosening some pandemic restrictions and maintaining others.

A third round for the $5,000-a-pop Manitoba Bridge Grant will be made available as of Friday for businesses across the province, just as new COVID-19 public-health orders come into effect that same day.

Eligible firms that received a first and second bridge grant payment in November and January will automatically receive a third, equal payment — with notifications for deposits being sent out via email.

New applicants will be able to receive a one-time payment for a maximum of $15,000, Premier Brian Pallister told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. The deadline for the program has been extended until March 31.

“Our business community and especially our small businesses are incredibly important and crucial to us here in Manitoba,” said Pallister. “That’s why I’m proud to announce this round of assistance to help cover the impact of public-health orders on operating costs during this careful reopening.”

According to the latest numbers from the province, this round of emergency aid is expected to dole out $67 million in support for eligible businesses, not-for-profits and charities. Roughly 14,775 businesses have already been provided with around $134 million so far.

Government officials believe that brings total program investment to $215 million — which would be $15 million above the original commitment of $200 million under the bridge grant.

But when asked for clarification from the Free Press about how those numbers add up to increase the original commitment, a provincial spokesperson said that number is derived from pending payments under the first and second round of the program that the province has yet to pay out.

“The province expected to pay out $147.5 million by March 31 before it introduced the third round of payments,” the spokesperson said.

“We’re definitely very pleased with this because the business community has been asking for this for a while now,” said Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, in an interview.

“Certainly, however, so many places continue to struggle because they’re nowhere near their earning potential or their revenues,” he said. “Every little bit helps, but I don’t think anyone expected for this to be going on for as long as it has.”

Davidson believes the bridge grant isn’t as helpful for medium- to larger-sized businesses as it is for smaller ones with fewer employees on payroll. “We’ve heard this repeatedly,” he said, “that this isn’t making a huge difference for them.”

“The thing about loosened restrictions is that they are still restrictions regardless of whether they are relaxed or not,” said Jonathan Alward, Manitoba director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “Owners and their employees are still being affected by this, and so, I’m pleased with the government’s decision right now.

“In a way by extending this, it acknowledges that businesses are struggling.”

For Advantage Conditioning, a fitness centre in Winnipeg, that’s something co-owners Chelsea White and Lindsay Jurkowski know all too well.

On Tuesday, they learned that not much is changing for them, with mask rules still in place throughout their facility and capacity limited at 25 per cent, though group classes and access to locker rooms will now be allowed.

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“It’s still quite restrictive, but we’re happy we’re at this point now,” said White.

“To be quite frank, this type of grant has been a life-saver because it’s definitely been much more difficult to try to get any other support programs,” said Jurkowski. “We’re just happy we don’t have to worry about paying it back like the federal government’s loans.”
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