The Canadian government unveiled a new benefit program on Tuesday (Jan. 26) for businesses that have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) was first announced in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement last November.
It was presented with the recognition that some businesses are operating at limited capacity, or have suspended operations entirely, to weather the economic storm brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
Through HASCAP, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will work with select financial institutions to offer government-guaranteed, low-interest loans of up to $1 million.
Hard-hit businesses, like a hotel or restaurant chains, could be eligible for up to $6.25 million, the Government of Canada states on its website.
“HASCAP will help businesses with their day-to-day operating costs during the COVID-19 crisis and enable them to invest in their longer-term prosperity,” reads a statement.
The HASCAP is available to all businesses in all sectors. But will it benefit travel agents and agencies?
“We, unfortunately, will not qualify"
It’s important, first, to break down the qualifying criteria.
To be eligible for HASCAP, businesses need to show a year-over-year revenue decline of at least 50% in three months, within the eight months prior to their application.
They must also be able to show financial institutions that they have previously applied for either the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy or the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy.
Travel agents with the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA) sat in on a call with the Ministry of Small Business's office yesterday afternoon to learn more.
And while the group is happy that host agencies, and agency owners, will likely qualify for the program, independent and self-employed agents will be left out, they say.
“We, unfortunately, will not qualify,” said ACITA’s Brenda Slater of the Beyond the Beach.
There are several criteria that “take independent agents out of the equation,” she said.
For example: eligible businesses must have previously applied for the rent and wage subsidy programs.
“Even with the HASCAP offer of a minimum $25,000 loan, at four per cent over 10 years, if we could qualify, we wonder how wise it would be for us to take on this kind of debt,” Slater told PAX.
Falling on deaf ears
ACITA is a grassroots advocacy group that formed in June to educate and lobby politicians about the challenges self-employed travel agents are facing amid the pandemic.
The initiative is led by Slater, alongside Judith Coates of The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) and Nancy Wilson of TravelOnly.
The group rallies travel advisors on a private Facebook group, urging members to schedule a one-on-one Zoom meeting with their local MP so they can personally explain why they need help.
After completing more than 115 meetings with MPs and policy makers, the group has gained support in Ottawa as more politicians have started raising industry concerns (such as the need for commission protections) in the House of Commons.
The limitations of the newly-unveiled HASCAP benefit, however, may come as a blow to some agents who operate independently.
“We feel as though we continually struggle to relay the need for assistance for the independent travel advisor community, but our voices are falling on deaf ears,” Slater said.
The team at ACITA has a followup meeting with the Minister of Small Business's office early next week to “show them how tens of thousands of us have fallen through the cracks again,” she said.
“We are not very hopeful that the requirements for this program will be changed to accommodate us, but we will try!” Slater said.
Eligible businesses can start applying for HASCAP as early as Feb. 1 at principal financial institutions and more widely by Feb 15.
Interested businesses should contact their primary lender to get more information and to apply.
More information is available at www.bdc.ca/hascap.
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