Calls for more business support

Member for Euroa Steph Ryan, right, with Seymour’s Little Stones Cafe owners Kris Medson and Milan Gnawali.

By Jackson Russell

Member for Euroa Steph Ryan has called on the State Government to offer more support to Mitchell Shire businesses in the midst of stage three restrictions.

Ms Ryan said the government’s $5000 Business Support Fund grants to help businesses ‘simply didn’t go far enough’.

“I am very concerned that the eligibility criteria for these grants means many small businesses won’t qualify at all,” she said.

“To receive the assistance, businesses need to have employees, be registered for WorkCover and already be on JobKeeper.

“That means sole traders are excluded, as is anyone who is not able to access the Federal Government’s main line of support in JobKeeper.”

However, a government spokesperson said the expanded Business Support Fund would help an estimated 80,000 small and medium-sized businesses in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.

“That is a $400 million commitment – and part of an overall $6 billion investment to support businesses and workers to make it through to the other side of the pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

More than 250 small businesses in Mitchell Shire received a $10,000 grant in the first round of the Business Support Fund, providing $2.51 million to Mitchell Shire small businesses.

Businesses that received funding in the first round are also eligible to apply for the new $5000 grant.

To be eligible, a business must be a participant in the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program and employ people, among other criteria.

However, to be eligible for JobKeeper, businesses must have had one eligible employee on March 1 and a 30 per cent fall in turnover.

The criteria has caused newer businesses, such as Seymour’s Little Stones Cafe, to fall through the cracks.

Co-owner Kris Medson said they were in the process of fitting out the cafe and planned to open in mid-April when the pandemic hit.

“When it started, we put everything on hold and when it came back to stage two restrictions we opened on June 1,” she said.

The opening date means the cafe is ineligible for several government assistance programs including the Australian Taxation Office’s cash-flow boost, JobKeeper and the Business Support Fund.

Aside from Ms Medson’s partner and co-owner, who also works as the cafe’s chef, Little Stones Cafe has one full-time, two permanent part-time and two casual employees.

Little Stones Cafe is missing out on payments of $6000 a fortnight from JobKeeper, $20,000 over six months from the cash-flow boost and a one-off payment of $5000 from the Business Support Fund.

Ms Medson said the criteria for the assistance programs was ‘flawed’.

“Particularly with the State Government payment, there’s a flaw with how that’s been done because the reason it’s tied with the JobKeeper payment is that those businesses have already shown the ATO they are suffering but it doesn’t have a secondary position that says we don’t qualify for JobKeeper but we’re struggling,” she said.

“It just says to us, bad luck. I think there’s a fundamental flaw in how those grants have been set up.

“Now the pandemic has lasted a lot longer than what the government anticipated, they do need to revisit the guidelines for JobKeeper to ensure businesses like ours aren’t falling through the cracks.

“The pandemic is stressful enough, not just as businesspeople. We’re parents as well, then to have the added burden of financial stress and the fact we could have some assistance but we’re not, it’s disheartening, really.”