With six months to go before the deadline for businesses to repay their pandemic loans without interest, the president and CEO for the Canadian Federation for Independent Business is urging the federal government to extend the deadline.

During the height of the pandemic, the government introduced the Canada Emergency Business Account, offering interest-free loans of up to $60,000 to help keep businesses afloat during the lockdowns. The loan deadline for repayment has already been extended to the end of this year.

Those failing to repay by the deadline lose the $20,000 forgivable chunk of the loan and begin to pay interest.

“This is a big worry for small business owners,” Dan Kelly, president and CEO of CFIB, told BNN Bloomberg Thursday. “Many are saying ‘I’d love to be able to put my pandemic debt behind me, but I don’t have the cash.’’

A recent report from the CFIB found about 19 per cent of CEBA recipients – nearly 250,000 businesses – run the risk of closing their doors if the deadline isn’t extended.

“We need another year or two in order to put this debt behind us,” Kelly said. “Remember, we have some of our members … they were entirely shut down for 430 days. How these businesses survived is a minor miracle, but many of them are on life support even now.”

“If you give businesses more time, man, many more will make it to the finish line here and that has been our message.”

On its website dedicated to CEBA, the government writes that all repayment deadlines are “now final.”

In a statement to BNNBloomberg.ca Thursday, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance called CEBA an “essential part” of the government’s pandemic response and highlighted that the repayment deadline has already been extended a year.

“To continue helping those hardest-hit by the pandemic, we announced that the CEBA repayment deadline was extended by one year to December 31, 2023,” the statement read. “This programme was central to ensuring Canadian small businesses were able to not only survive the pandemic but thrive in the recovery.”