A second round of $1,500 city grants could help cover pandemic losses for Winnipeg businesses and non-profit organizations, though some fear that alone won’t be enough to save them.
Coun. Scott Gillingham, council’s finance chairman, is lobbying his council colleagues to devote $3 million to provide 2,000 grants, echoing a previous city grant program.
Gillingham (St. James) said he saw a clear need for more assistance, after the province announced Friday it would once again shut down in-person business at restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and other companies.
"I just knew that when those health orders came into place, it would devastate many businesses and non-profit organizations, who’ve been struggling to survive through COVID-19 … We need to do all we can as a city to protect jobs and to protect household incomes," he said.
The strict new measures, which took effect Sunday, are meant to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
On Monday, the province announced a fourth round of Manitoba bridge grants, which provide payments of up to $5,000 to businesses affected by COVID-19 public health orders, and promised an additional $2,000 top-up for restaurants.
While a local restaurant owner stressed "every dime" of support is welcome, he fears the city subsidy may not be enough to keep many business from shutting down for good.
"Does $1,500 help? Absolutely. It helps me kind of survive a little bit more … but in a year to a year-and-a-half, I don’t know where I’m going to be and I don’t know where my industry is going to be," said Chris Graves, owner of the King’s Head Pub.
Graves said his business has endured "six-figure" losses and many businesses are taking on debt to get by, which could trigger closures a year from now.
"That’s when you are actually going to start seeing the actual true devastation of what’s happened because that’s when we’re really going to have to figure out (how to pay) back our loans … Every time we get shutdown, my first phone call is to the bank," said Graves.
Scott Jocelyn, president of the Manitoba Hotel Association, said hotels also need, and appreciate, help from every level of government, as travel continues to be discouraged.
"There’s no curbside (option) for staying in guest rooms. Even though the guest rooms aren’t closed, there’s nobody travelling yet," said Jocelyn.
While he didn’t question the health orders, Jocelyn also fears some hotels won’t recover from their pandemic losses.
"It’s no one’s fault but the damage is deep," he said.
Graves said he had hoped for some property and/or business tax relief from the city, since those levies are based on a customer capacity that wasn’t allowed throughout most of 2020.
"For 5.5 months last year … I couldn’t even have anybody in (the restaurant) as a patron," he said.
Gillingham said the city simply can’t afford to waive its property and business tax revenue, due to its own pandemic losses.
"The City of Winnipeg is experiencing significant revenue losses in areas like transit, (the) parking authority, revenues related to fees on our recreation facilities … So we have to carefully manage the city’s finances," he said.
Winnipeg finance officials estimated that lost revenues and increased costs from COVID-19 would drain about $61.2 million from its original budget for 2021. That forced significant revisions during a financial update late last year.
Gillingham hopes a second potential round of COVID-19 relief grants can be funded by city savings, or, failing that, through the city’s rainy day fund.
If council approves the grants, businesses would be apply for them until July 31.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.