The Victorian government has extended its small business grant program, and will now pay an additional $5,000 to those affected by the second wave of coronavirus infections across the state.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the first batch of these additional payments, handed out automatically to recipients of earlier emergency grant support, has already been paid.
“We’re pushing those payments out as quickly as we can,” Andrews told reporters.
Andrews defended the state’s support for small businesses struggling with Melbourne’s stage four COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, revealing almost $800 million has been paid out to companies this year.
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The state government has now extended the Business Support Fund grants twice, initially offering $5,000 payments when stage three was reintroduced last month, before outlining a further $10,000 payment after stage four restrictions were announced.
After the latest extension is taken into account, businesses in metropolitan Melbourne would be eligible for $20,000 in total, while those in regional areas have been eligible for $15,000 in payments.
Andrews said 24,000 eligible businesses have so far received emergency grant payments, totalling $120 million in taxpayer funds handed out to companies with less than $3 million in annual payroll.
“We want businesses to survive this pandemic. We want people healthy and back at work. We want to begin the process of rebuilding our economy and our community and setting us up for the future,” he said.
The funds are part of a broader $1.7 billion economic survival package outlined by the Victorian government at the outset of the pandemic, which has so far paid out $776 million in support for about 77,600 eligible businesses.
The extent of state government support for small businesses has nevertheless faced criticism in recent weeks, particularly among non-employing sole traders across the state, which are not eligible for the emergency grants.
Sole traders have begun circulating online petitions calling on the state government to do more, but Andrews has sought to highlight the availability of federal government programs such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker for these business owners.
Victorian Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said last week the state did not have the capacity to extend its emergency grant program to sole traders.
“We simply don’t have the capacity to do that. We would have either had to increase the envelope by some billions of dollars or we would have had to reduce the payment to businesses from $10,000 to maybe $2,000. It wouldn’t have been appropriate support,” he told 2GB.
Meanwhile, the federal government has moved to tweak eligibility for the JobKeeper program to ensure businesses affected by the stage four restrictions don’t fall through the cracks when businesses are forced to reapply in October.
Speaking on ABC Insiders over the weekend, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann did not rule out making further changes to JobKeeper to ensure Victorian business owners had access to adequate support.
“I’m not going to speculate, the policy settings are what they are. As we’ve demonstrated in the past, if facts change, we’ll reassess what may or may not be appropriate,” he said.