Kristin Schumacher and her 19-year-old cat Solomon. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Kristin Schumacher and her 19-year-old cat Solomon. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Sole proprietors overlooked in COVID-19 financial, Surrey business owners say

Pet sitters say they are not eligible for series of provincial, federal financial aid

Two Surrey business owners say the federal government’s definition of a small business has left thousands of sole proprietors struggling to stay afloat while brick-and-mortar businesses reap the benefits of financial aid.

Kristin Schumacher is the sole owner and operator of a professional pet sitting service, Kitty Kompany.

Due to a lack of international and domestic travel, the demand for pet sitting services has dramatically decreased since the beginning of COVID-19, she said. When the federal government warned against international travel in early 2020, Schumacher immediately lost $12,000 in bookings.

But because she doesn’t have employees, nor does she lease space, Schumacher was ineligible to receive Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) or the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS).

Schumacher said she was, however, eligible to receive the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which was discontinued on Oct. 23, “ironically, just shortly after the election.”

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Now that CERB has ended, and Omicron has arrived, Schumacher is faced with a new challenge.

“Omicron basically wiped out my Christmas. I had 15 bookings for Christmas and I lost eight of those bookings,” Schumacher said. “The problem is, people need to start travelling.”

As of Dec. 22, B.C. public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry closed bars and nightclubs, reduced capacity for indoor event venues, and closed adult exercise, fitness and dance activities.

The province also “strongly recommends” to follow the federal travel advisory, which states to “avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, regardless of your vaccination status.”

When Henry announced the COVID-19 lock-downs, the province announced a “COVID Closure Relief Grant.”

The grant is available for businesses that had to fully close to comply with the Dec. 22 orders.

Schumacher said she hasn’t applied for the grant because her business doesn’t qualify. However, under her accountant’s advisement, she has applied for the federal Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit (CWLB).

The CWLB gives temporary income support to employed and self-employed people who cannot work due to a COVID-19 lockdown. CWLB is only available when a COVID-19 lockdown order is designated in a person’s region. People who are eligible are to receive $300 ($270 after taxes withheld) for each one-week period. It’s administered by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Schumacher said she’s not confident her application will be approved.

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“I don’t know whether I’ll get it because honestly, I’m not really technically in lock-down. The government is saying you should not travel out of the country, but they’re not saying you can’t,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher also expressed concern that if she were to receive CWLB, the government might ask for the money to be returned.

Lawana Quest, who own’s Surrey-based Cat’s Cradle Critter Sitter, finds herself in the same position as Schumacher.

Quest highlighted a number of concerns with the CWLB. She said the new benefit is not retroactive to Oct. 23, when the federal government cancelled CERB.

“I’ve been borrowing from friends and family since mid-October just to pay my bills,” Quest said.

Another concern, Quest said, is that the CWLB is only available when a COVID-19 lock-down order is designated in a specific region. The current PHO restrictions are scheduled to expire Jan. 18.

“If they end this designated lock-down on January (18th), we would have been eligible for four weeks, which is $1200 gross… then nothing,” Quest said.

Ideally, Schumacher said, she would like to see a benefit, similar to CERB, designed for business owners who are sole proprietors and out of work.

“I’ve got the numbers to show. They’ve got my 2020 tax return, they can look at it and figure it out themselves. In 2020, I literally did maybe $2,000 in pet sitting for the entire year. Whereas I’m usually doing $50,000 to $60,000 at least,” Schumacher said.

A point of frustration, Schumacher added, is politicians declaring that they have the backs of small business, however sole proprietors aren’t being recognized or supported.

“It’s hard for me to wrap my head around when (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau is sitting out there, making all of these comments about Canadian small businesses and how he’s there to support. I just want to know that a sole proprietor is every bit a part of a Canadian small businesses.”

Schumacher said she took her concern to Surrey-Newton Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal. She said Dhaliwal told her to wait for Bill C-2, which contains $7.4 billion on pandemic benefits for Canadians.

“Bill C-2 came out and it only covers wage subsidy and rent subsidy. I waffle between being really upset about this and angry about it. I pay my taxes, I do everything,” she said.

Dhaliwal confirmed to the Now-Leader that he did meet with Schumacher to listen to her “extremely difficult circumstances.”

“As I explained at the time, while sole proprietors were unable to access certain support programs, there were interest-free loans available through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). I am an MP that has always communicated the loopholes that I discover from speaking to constituents, which has led to changes being made. I was as vocal with Ms. Schumacher’s case at the time, and continue to advocate for those who may have slipped through the cracks,” Dhaliwal said in an email.

The B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation said in a statement that it has provided more supports to people and businesses per capita than any other province in Canada.

The ministry said the $10 million COVID-19 Closure Relief Grant, announced last month, is to specifically help businesses, including sole proprietors, ordered to close temporarily under the recent public health orders. The ministry noted that a pet sitting business would not be eligible.

The Canadian Ministry of Finance has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Another frustration, Schumacher said, is politicians proclaiming that there are plenty of jobs available. However, Schumacher, 57, has had little luck.

“I want to work, I’m here raising my hand, I want to work…. Offer me a job running (a) gift shop, something small. Even if it’s part time. I’m running into this ageism thing.”

Schumacher said she was able to secure odd jobs over the last year, such as working the census during the election and then delivering packages for FedEx. She said she even took a 12-week WorkBC training course, but hasn’t been able to secure a job.

“Some of us do have restrictions. It’s not like I’m saying OK Mr. Government, please give me all of this money to pay rent and everything so I don’t get evicted so that I can sit on my laurels and not do anything until the travel industry comes back. I’m not saying that. I’m saying hey, if I could work, I would be working.”