Pictured here is Jeff Hanger, executive director of the Lacombe & District Chamber of Commerce. Express file photo

Pictured here is Jeff Hanger, executive director of the Lacombe & District Chamber of Commerce. Express file photo

Local Chambers of Commerce push for deadline extensions for pandemic loans

Local Chambers of Commerce have been busy helping to advocate for repayment extensions for federally-funded loans that supported small businesses through the pandemic.

“We’ve been asked by a number of our businesses to look into these CEBA (Canada Emergency Business Account) loans,” said Jeff Hanger, executive director of the Lacombe & District Chamber of Commerce. “As time went on, there have been a number of businesses that have been struggling to (make these payments).”

According to Chamber officials, CEBA essentially included two components – one was for a $40,000 loan with a $10,000 forgivable component.

The second was for $60,000 with $20,000 being forgivable.

According to press reports, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and other industry associations are calling on the federal government for an extension to the CEBA repayment schedule.

This request, in a letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, is that the deadline (for Dec. 31, 2023) be pushed to the end of 2025 or at least by one year.

On the local front, Hanger said part of the Chamber’s process is to get policy – or requests for policy changes – to the people in power.

“We were asked to put together a submission of what a policy proposal would look like if the provincial government was going to interact or intervene in the federal system or policy,” he explained.

“Together with the Ponoka Chamber, we put forward a policy proposal to the Alberta Chamber of Commerce which was discussed at length and approved by the Alberta Chamber.”

According to Alberta Chamber policy which was approved this past May, 30 percent of businesses surveyed in the fall of 2022 said it would be a challenge to repay the funding they had received.

The policy also noted that some 50,000 businesses would ultimately have to pay back the ‘entire’ loan they had been given.

Jason Leslie, chief operating officer of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, said that the organization has been gauging both the impact of CEBA and other support programs and the impacts of the repayment schedules for some time.

“CEBA was one of the more robust programs from the federal level to support businesses,” he said.

But how some businesses have been impacted has varied, particularly in terms of what has been ‘forgivable’ and what hasn’t been – particularly in light of the approaching repayment deadline.

“We started to recognize that this was going to be an issue for businesses based on the feedback we were getting from where businesses were at financially,” said Leslie, adding that he was grateful for policy input and advocacy work from the Lacombe and Ponoka Chambers as well.

Another factor is that the public, in general, is eager to put COVID in the rear-view mirror and may not be aware of the implications for small businesses which took on heightened financial risk to keep their operations afloat during COVID.

On the local front, Hanger said many small business owners agree the repayment deadline is a major issue.

In many cases, economic recovery just hasn’t been as speedy as had been expected.

Meanwhile, stakeholders are hoping for a statement about possible changes to repayment extensions to come down this fall.

And the earlier the better, because if there is no announcement until November, that isn’t helpful to a business that is expected to pay back thousands by the end of this year.

“(My thinking) is that you aren’t going to hear anything until September,” said Leslie.

“It’s not going to be until they are back in session.”

In the meantime, it’s hoped that politicians are garnering feedback from the frontlines of their business communities.

“Politicians are probably doing a pretty heavy litmus test on this issue in their constituencies,” Leslie said. “Awareness is starting to build around it. It’s on the radar for sure.”

-With files from The Canadian Press