N.S. restaurateurs welcome CERB expansion, but call for additional COVID-19 support

Nova Scotia restaurant owners are pleased with Ottawa’s new expansion to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, but say it’s not enough to keep them up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expanded the CERB to include workers who earn up to $1,000 per month, meaning the food service sector can bring some laid-off workers back to the table on a part-time basis.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction and I think it will help us a lot with the work that needs to be done,” said Kourosh Rad, owner of Garden Food Bar and Lounge in Halifax.

“But still, more needs to be done to support independent businesses like ours.”

Since the outbreak began, some restaurant owners in Nova Scotia say they’ve had difficulty finding staff to deliver their food, as people turn down work in order to access the $2,000-per-month government relief fund. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, anyone who worked even a small number of hours was ineligible for CERB.

“They don’t want to work in this environment just because of the high risk they’re going through. If they do that, they will put themselves in harm’s way for no more than they would be making through the government program,” Rad explained.

“That has resulted in myself being here pretty much every single day, 12 to 16 hours a day since March 15th.”

The new CERB expansion will help solve this problem, he added, which means Garden Food Bar will able to offer delivery in-house, rather than rely on a phone-based delivery application that takes a major cut of profit with every order.

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But he said he’d like to see federal government loan programs expand to include new business owners like him, who can’t meet current requirements to produce at least $50,00-worth of payroll evidence for 2019. Rad said he took over Garden Food Bar in early February, and only has a few weeks’ of records.

Restaurants Canada is looking for financial relief from new places too; Luc Erjavec, vice-present for the Atlantic chapter said he’s calling on Nova Scotia Power to stop charging restaurants for infrastructure-based fees.

“I don’t think now is the time that we should be collecting infrastructure charges and capital costs being amortized over our rates at this time. I think they need to cut us a break and waive those charges as long as businesses are closed,” he explained.

Nova Scotia Power, which has already waived penalties for missed payments and suspended disconnections until at least June, said discussions about individual circumstances remain open with its customer service agents.

“We encourage anyone, including small business owners who are struggling to pay their bills, to call our customer care team,” wrote spokesperson Jacqueline Foster. “Our team will be able to review their accounts and better understand how we can help them.”

Nova Scotia’s food service industry is worth roughly $2.1 billion annually, amounting to 4.6 per cent of the province’s GDP, according to Restaurants Canada.

Without a spike in sales or support for shop owners trying to pay their bills, the association estimates the sector’s sales will drop more than $440 million for the second quarter of 2020.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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