Kara Cooper says she knew in the back of her mind that her JobKeeper payments would soon end, but that didn’t make receiving the news from her accountant this week any easier.
The New South Wales business owner says she “held out until the end” to get her accountant to assess her income to find out if she would still qualify for the wage subsidies, and even when she spotted the email from her accountant in her inbox, she put off opening it, finding other things to do, so she didn’t have to read it straight away.
“It’s like the lover that’s prone to affairs — you know in the back of your mind it’s over but you don’t want to acknowledge it,” she tells SmartCompany.
“But now I’m sitting in my store, rearranging things and listening to Queen. Freddie Mercury is singing, ‘the show must go on’, and that’s right.”
Cooper is the founder of Mount Vic and Me, a homewares and design business based in Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains, and is one of scores of Australian business owners who, from this week, will no longer receive JobKeeper payments as the scheme moves into its second phase.
Cooper qualified for the first phase of JobKeeper in March, as did her husband who is a self-employed tiler, with the national lockdown having an immediate effect on their businesses.
But businesses such as Coopers now need to re-test their eligibility for the second phase of the program, which will see the value of fortnightly payments drop.
Of course, for some small business owners, they will be coming off JobKeeper because their income has improved since March and they, therefore, do not meet the threshold of having a 30% reduction in revenue.
However, Cooper says it is harder to gauge if her business’ position has fundamentally improved since the start of the year.
Her JobKeeper payments of $3,000 a month are counted as income for the purposes of eligibility for the wage subsidy scheme, and she feels her business expenses are now much higher.
Mount Vic and Me was forced to swap manufacturers during the pandemic, which came with added costs, and the delivery of her online orders is now much slower.
“We’re just trying to stay afloat,” she says.
“But for the most part, people are really supportive and want you to survive.”
As well as selling her quirky designs online, Cooper also operates a retail space in the centre of Mount Victoria, and the end of her JobKeeper payments coincided with a request from her landlord to start increasing her rent again, after they offered a “generous” rent reduction earlier this year.
“It’s tough,” she says.
Wait and see
Cooper employs one casual employee and is relieved they will still qualify for JobKeeper for the time being.
“It’s a great relief, but I’m worried if that winds up as well, I’m not sure what will happen moving forward,” she says.
This worker initially didn’t qualify for JobKeeper, having been with the business for only nine months when the wage subsidies were first introduced, so Cooper used her own JobKeeper payments to increase the hours she could offer to her employee.
“I’ve done my best throughout the whole time. I ramped her hours up, and used a lot of that money to grow the business in a way, to get stock under control and put systems in place,” she says.
“We feel a little bit more secure now, but we’re still on high alert.”
Cooper is equally concerned about the wider flow-on effects of members of the community losing access to JobKeeper, and JobSeeker, this week, and the potential effect that will have on consumer spending.
“I’m worried about what that will mean,” she says.
Cooper says Mount Vic and Me was fortunate to receive a state government grant of $3,000 to help reopen its retail space, and this money has gone towards cleaning products to ensure the business meets health and safety standards, as well as social media advertising to get more people through the doors.
And while she has been told she may be able to reapply for JobKeeper in coming months, Cooper is hoping to see the government announce further wage support measures in the federal budget, which will be handed down on October 6.
“Sometimes when you run your own business you don’t take a wage, but if you can keep your employees on, you can push on in business,” she says.
Cooper would also like to see the government “step up and investigate” what can be done to support local manufacturing.
“What a great time to investigate,” she says.
“We’ve got job shortages, country towns with old factory situations, so what can we do to promote Australian made?
“It’s a terrible time, but it’s not a bad time to make changes.”
Despite the ongoing challenges, Cooper says she is hopeful.
“I’m hoping there is further relief, and I’m hoping we don’t have any more bushfires,” she says.
“I think anyone who is still in business now is pretty resilient.”