Small Business and COVID-19 - dispatch from the front lines
I recently wrote from personal experience about the challenges facing entrepreneurs and small businesses, and a number of ways to help. A short 24 hours later, there have been massive injections of liquidity into the banking and financial system, taxes have been deferred, and employment insurance has been modified. The Child Health Benefit has been expanded and activated, funds made available for the vulnerable, and temporary emergency bridging funds are in the works. Provinces and municipalities are exploring a myriad of ways to help the tens of thousands of people suddenly without a basic income, including property tax and utility deferrals. This is all good and important work.
But there's a problem and it's a big one. None of it is coordinated. Application forms have not been simplified. Emergency loans and finances require a lengthy approval process. EI job-sharing programs require no less than five forms and coordination between multiple parties, some of whom are not available. Phone lines are jammed, and electronic intake systems are crashing.
I have a suggestion for government leaders in all jurisdiction, who I appreciate are trying to digest an almost unbelievable amount of information, and keep the population calm: coordinate your economic message. Develop a simple one page in-take form, like the federal procurement site www.buyandsell.gc.ca did. Allow Canadians to self-identify (e.g. I'm a small business owner, I'm a labourer, I'm a stay-at-home parent with two kids) and point them to programs they can access right now.
Doing this solves two problems simultaneously. It focuses people on the immediate resources they need right now and gives them something to do. It streamlines the government's intake process, so they can triage it more effectively. A prudent course of action would be to mobilize a civilian triage workforce that can review and channel applications to the right government agency. This workforce is available, and sitting idle at home, eager for something to do.
We are fighting two pandemics simultaneously: a public health pandemic and an economic pandemic. Our economy is shutting down and going on life support for a prolonged period. We need to think about how to better connect with citizens and and help them connect with their government.
Stay safe out there and stay hopeful.
David J. Muddle, CMC
Partner M Consulting | Wilde Advisory Group