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Can my small business without a payroll get government help?

Last Updated Apr 29, 2020 at 12:32 pm PDT

File (iStock)

Small businesses without a payroll don't qualify for some federal programs

Rent subsidy, loan programs available to small and medium-sized businesses

NEWS 1130 is working hard to get you the information you need about the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are responding to your questions in a segment we call NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.


This question comes from Tim Whyte, a small business owner worried he doesn’t qualify for benefits offered by the provincial and federal governments.

“The government announcements are great but when is the government going to address owner/operators of small businesses who don’t have payroll and still pay their taxes? I pay myself in dividends, I pay my corporate and personal taxes. I work in film and television which has been completely shut down by this pandemic … it doesn’t seem that anything has been [done] for those of us who own a small business but don’t have payroll. The CEWS doesn’t seem to apply. I’m wondering if/when changes will be made to help those of us who are falling through the cracks.”


Victoria and Ottawa are both offering a range of supports for individuals and businesses that have lost income due to the pandemic.

From what we know about Whyte’s situation, he likely qualifies for the federal Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks to people who have stopped working because of COVID-19 or whose income has dropped to less than $1,000 every four weeks.

But he is right when he says he doesn’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which could pay 75 per cent of his employees’ wages – if he had any.

Similarly, the feds are offering the Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides credit to help businesses cover operating costs such as payroll, rent, utilities and insurance. But Whyte doesn’t qualify because it’s only available to businesses with payrolls ranging from $20,000 to $1.5 million.

Whyte may, however, benefit from income tax filing and payment deadlines being pushed back by both the feds and province, a cut to B.C.’s school property tax and the ability to defer BC Hydro bills.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked last week what he was doing to help people like Whyte – business owners without payrolls who have lost revenue but continue to pay fixed costs.

He said his government has “worked on measures to help as many people as possible,” mentioning CEWS and CERB.

“We know that these are measures that got out quickly, are getting out quickly and are broad and are helping millions of Canadians but we also know that there are people who are falling through the cracks,” Trudeau said.

“That is why we continue to work with industry groups, with stakeholders, with MPs and community members across the country who are feeding us challenges and possible solutions – and, of course, we are working with an extraordinary public service to deliver those solutions to Canadians.”

Trudeau announced on Friday an agreement with provinces and territories to lower rent by 75 per cent for some small and medium-sized businesses for April, May, and June.

A spokesperson with the federal finance ministry said Whyte might qualify for a new $40 billion loan guarantee program from Export Development Canada.

Have a question? Send it to us by email at news1130.ckwx@rogers.com, on Twitter, or on Instagram.