Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles, top middle, spoke last Thursday during a virtual question-and-answer session about the recently launched grant programme for small businesses. (Photo: FACEBOOK)

Although she reiterated last week that “99.9 percent” of businesses that apply would qualify for the government’s recently launched $6.5 million grants programme, Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles urged applicants to be realistic about the funding they might receive.

“For instance, you might be looking for $20,000, but that might not be possible, depending on a lot of other factors, but we will try to help,” she said last Thursday in a question-and-answer session on the Economic Stimulus for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Businesses Grant Relief Programme.

Director of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs Karia Christopher noted that one of the most common concerns from applicants is “how much money can we get?”

However, she explained that the figure won’t be known until “the end of the process … and so once we get that ranking and we see that a company pays X amount of dollars to Company Y.”

The trade department will review each company’s expenses and verify the dollar amounts owed, according to Ms. Christopher.

“But I want to caution the business owners, if you owe $20,000 in expenses, please note $6.5 million is a finite number,” she said. “We perhaps will not be able to pay all of your expenses. … There are so many applicants.”

Although companies with more than 20 employees will not qualify for this grant programme, Ms. Flax-Charles said government is considering ways to aid them as well.

“We are certainly looking at all angles,” she said. “Because a business employs more than 20 persons does [not] mean that they are okay during these times. … It is something that we are looking at, and we have a government of inclusion and we want to make sure that nobody feels left out.”

Application process

Ms. Christopher explained, as she did earlier this month, that the only document initially required for the application, which is available now through the government’s official website, is a trade licence.

However, the department may also ask for certificates of good standing from the Social Security Board, National Health Insurance and Inland Revenue.

Applicants will begin by answering four questions: whether the business has 20 or fewer employees; whether it has a valid trade licence; whether it existed prior to Jan. 31; and whether it is currently operational.

“Those questions let us know if you’re qualified,” she said. “If you do not qualify and you feel that you should have qualified, very simple, you can redo that four-question segment, and they will let you in.”

Businesses will go on to answer questions about their revenue and expenses. No amount of expenses is too large or too small to apply, she explained.

Outstanding info

Ms. Christopher did not disclose the total number of applicants, but she said about 300 have not submitted requested supporting letters of good standing and she urged them to do so if they can.

“If you’re having extenuating circumstances — you have tried and you have proof that you are waiting on those documents — we will slowly step into the departments ourselves and get that information for you,” she said. “If you have provided that this is something that you’ve already requested and are waiting for, you will not be locked out of the system.”

The applications will be evaluated using a blind ranking system, she added.

“We at trade have a team that’s dedicated specifically for this process, and we review the information so I may rank you, and it’s ranked blindly,” she said.

“We don’t know who it is we’re ranking, so that it’s very fair and
very seamless.”

Applications for the grants, which are due tomorrow, finally went live last month, after government initially promised that they would be available on June 15.

The $6.5 million funding the programme was part of a larger $40 million grant from the Social Security Board to fund various economic stimulus measures, many of which have been struggling to get off the ground since they were announced in late May.

“The government is working as hard as they can to make sure that their relief comes to businesses, households and individuals, because we know a lot of people are suffering,”

Patlian Johnson, consultant for the programme in the Premier’s Office, said during the session last Thursday. “We are ensuring that it is done in a very objective manner so that all of this can be very transparent and we can be accountable in terms of how we utilise the taxpayers’ money.”