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COVID Government Assistance Programs for Small Business (CEBA, CERB/CRB, CEWS, CERS): A Guide

CEWS, CERB, CECRA, CEBA, CERS, LEEFF, …. it seems like there a new acronym every week in the government’s efforts to provide relief to Canadians who have suffered economic hardship as a result of the pandemic. There is undoubtedly genuine intention to help, and for this we should be grateful because not all governments around the works are doing the same. And yet, if you are a small business owner who can’t seem to keep up with the myriad of new programs, terms, conditions and names, and who is just about ready to shrug and forget about trying get any help out of this confusing mess, you are not alone.

If you start searching online you will come across programs that are no longer running (the temporary 10% wage subsidy, CERB or the CECRA for example), others that are unlikely to offer any help for small businesses (like several of the BDC and EDC loan programs targeting mid-market, or the LEEFF for large employers), and still other that have changed some many times that it seems like there are a dozen separate programs under the same name (more prominently – the CEWS).

CEBA is an interest-free loan of up to $60,000 with a forgivable portion of up to $20,000, for small businesses with payroll expenses of over $20,000 in 2019 or non-deferrable expenses of over $40,000 in 2020.

CERS is a subsidy that covers up to 90% of rent, property tax and mortgage rent for properties used to run a business.

CERB was replaced by three new programs including CRS starting October. Both programs provide a bi-weekly subsidy of $2,000 to Canadians who have stopped working or had a significant reduction in work due to COVID. This includes self-employed persons whose business had to shut down or reduce significantly during the pandemic.

CEWS is a wage subsidy that covers a portion of payroll costs depending on several factors, most importantly revenue decline during the pandemic.

CEBA (Canadian Emergency Business Account)

CEBA is an interest-free business loan funded by the federal government but administered by financial institutions. It offers a line of credit of up to $60,000 and $20,000 of this is forgivable if the balance is repaid by December 31, 2022.

Deadline: applications are due March 31, 2021.

Who qualifies: there are two ways to qualify – the Payroll stream and the Non-Deferrable Expense stream.

Payroll stream: you incurred over $20,000 in payroll costs in 2019. Payroll costs are wages, salaries, bonuses, as well as your share of CPP, EI and any other benefits to your employees.

Non-Deferrable Expense stream: you incurred less than $20,000 in payroll costs in 2019, but you have $40,000 or more in non-deferrable expenses for 2020.

CERS Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy

This is a recent program and should not be confused with the earlier CECRA. CECRA offered commercial rent subsidies to landlords, so it was up to the landlords to file the application. CERS, on the other hand, is a subsidy provided to the business paying the rent (or other property costs) for the space used to run their operations.

Timeline: although the program was only introduced in November, and the application was launched on November 23rd, the program is retroactive to September 27th. Currently the program is set to cover periods up to March 13, 2021.

Who can apply?

If your business has experienced a revenue drop during the pandemic, and you have a qualifying property, you can apply. A qualifying property is one that you own or rent and one which you use to operate your business (but not your private residence or a property you keep to generate rent income).


If you run a business, you may be eligible for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB).

CERB provided eligible Canadians with $2,000 bi-weekly benefit for periods March 15 through September 26. This was subsequently replaced with three new programs, including CRB.

As a business owner you may be eligible for CERB if you:

1. Stopped working (involuntarily) due to COVID-14,

2. Had self-employment or employment income of at least $5,000 in or in 12 months prior to the application date.

3. Earned no more than $1,000 during the given 14-days period.

And you may be eligible for CRB if you:

1. Are no longer running your business or have an (involuntary) reduction of at least 50% in your self-employed income due to COVID.

2. Had self-employment or employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019, 2020 or in 12 months prior to first application CRB application date.

3. Are actively looking for work and have not rejected any reasonable opportunity to resume the business.


This wage subsidy covers a percentage of eligible payroll costs paid by employers. It is available for periods starting March 15, 2020 and has recently been extended to June 2021. A separate application is required for each month-long benefit period. Employers can apply through CRA’s My Business Account portal. If you do not have an account, you can register online before applying.

The subsidy calculation is notoriously complex. It also varies significantly depending on which period you are applying for, since the program has gone through several rounds of updates since the it was first introduced.

In broad terms, for periods in March through early July, you need to show a revenue drop of at least 30% (15% in March) to qualify for a fixed subsidy of 75% up to a weekly dollar limit.

Starting from July 5th, there are no minimum sales drop threshold, but the subsidy rate is now variable based the percentage of revenue decrease. The maxim subsidy rate is 75% or 65%, depending on the period.

Thousands of professional hours and hundreds of pages of industry literature have been spent on the revenue drop calculation alone. The full details of the formulas, thresholds and limits for each CEWS claims period are beyond the intention of this report. It is strongly recommended that you get the assistance of your accountant or advisor before applying.


The programs noted here do not exhaust the measures introduced by the Federal government and its partners to assist Canadians impacted financially by the pandemic. Additionally, provincial, regional and municipal each have programs of their own.

We wanted to highlight some of the main benefits that may apply to you as a small business owner or an independent professional. If you think you may be eligible for any of these, the next step should be to speak to your advisor – your accountant, banker, or tax professional, for instance. The application process for some of these subsidies can be time consuming and requires some fact finding and gathering of documentation, so please do not wait too long to get started to avoid missing deadlines..


Online Resources


20 page report outlining in detail everything you need to know about Government Assistance programs for small business.

Includes "How to Apply" & tips on a successful application

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