Small businesses across the country that have experienced a substantial drop in revenue as a result of the bushfires will soon be able to access a new $10,000 grant from the federal government.
The Morrison government has been criticised for the slow roll-out of relief for bushfire-affected businesses, with hundreds of small businesses still waiting to find out if their applications for financial assistance have been successful.
According to Nine News, small businesses in selected council areas will be given access to the new grant.
To be eligible, businesses must have experienced a 40% drop in revenue over a three-month period as a result of the bushfires, compared to the previous year.
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Importantly, the grants will be available to businesses that have been both directly and indirectly affected by the bushfires.
According to details available on the National Bushfire Recovery Agency website, state governments will be responsible for selecting the council areas for the grant program.
Applications will open on March 16, and will be made via the state government bushfire help hotlines.
The federal government has also said it will relax aspects of the eligibility criteria for its existing bushfire-relief grants and loans. According to reports, businesses will no longer need to provide security for the concessional loans of up to $50,000.
The government will also increase the number of staff stationed at recovery hubs to help businesses fill out application forms and understand what assistance they may be eligible for.
Close to $13 million will fund an extra 21 additional business experts at the hubs, as well as 20 additional staff from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency.
The changes have been welcomed by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with chief executive James Pearson saying they will effectively “slash” the red tape faced by many small businesses that are trying to get back on their feet.
“We are almost a quarter of the way through the year and many small businesses in bushfire-affected areas are still doing it tough,” he said.
“Despite the urgent need for assistance to cope with damage and loss of trade, it has failed to get through to many of them. Eligibility requirements have been too restrictive and the application process overwhelming for many business owners.”
“The new $10,000 grant, simplified access to financial assistance and the provision of more face-to-face advice will hopefully prevent more businesses from shutting, affecting families and the community at large,” he added.
Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said the government is “listening and we are acting to help fire-affected communities recovery, and the states to expedite that recovery after these devastating fires”.