With growing economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial landscape is shifting every day.

Whether it's dealing with sudden unemployment, ballooning debt, or expenses related to working from home, BNN Bloomberg wants to help Canadians navigate these uncharted waters.

That’s why we created Ask BNN Bloomberg, where you can have your personal finance questions answered by industry professionals.

Email or send your questions via video to askbnnbloomberg@bellmedia.ca, and we will aim to answer them weekly.

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity. Last names will not be used.

Financial help for small business owners without employees

Rod in Hamilton, Ont.:

Canadian small business owners with zero employees are excluded from the Canada Emergency Business Account relief program. We are not being given any support to help us sustain our business through this pandemic. All of the continued enhancements only apply to small businesses that have one or more employees.

There are over 2,800,000 small businesses that have no employees and currently they are not eligible for the CEBA program. This is more than double the number of small businesses with employees in Canada, including myself.

How do we get the government to recognize this important issue and get it to extend CEBA to the non-employer small businesses so that they too can also survive this pandemic?

I am hoping that my email brings importance and interest to you. Thank you for helping with this important issue in saving all small businesses across Canada. We need to help all we can during this unforeseen time. (April 29, 2020)

Mary Ng, minister of small business, export promotion and international trade:

Nothing is more important to me than helping businesses and entrepreneurs through this unprecedented challenge.

We know there is no one-size-fits-all solution for relief. That’s why – while the Canada Emergency Business Account loan might not be for every type of business – we have created a wide range of supports to help small business owners and entrepreneurs, including those without any employees.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit gives $2,000 to millions of Canadians making under $1,000 a month, including the self-employed. We’ve partnered with the provinces and territories to lower small business tenants’ rent by 75 per cent. We’ve deferred GST, HST and custom duty payments – which means money staying in the pockets of over 3.2 million entrepreneurs. We’re also providing dedicated support to innovators, young entrepreneurs, businesses in rural communities, and Indigenous-owned businesses.

Our government is still listening, and I won’t rest until we have done everything possible to help small businesses. (May 6, 2020)

Holding corporations and CERB eligibility

Ernie in Waterloo, Ont.:

My wife and I are equal shareholders of a holding corporation.  The holding corporation owns an operating corporation. 

We are also employees of the operating corporation earning less than $1,000 per month each in payroll. Business has slowed down but is not zero. We have opted not to take payroll at this time at all.

Given we control our corporation, are each of us still eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) since we have no employment income and work is nearly (but not completely) non-existent?

We are still receiving business income on work performed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, which just has delayed terms of payment. The payments from past work completed are still trickling in. Does that matter? (April 23, 2020)

Robin Taub, founder of Robin Taub Financial Consulting: 

Can shareholders of a holding corporation apply for CERB?

Robin Taub, founder of Robin Taub Financial Consulting, answers a viewer question on whether shareholders of a holding corporation can access CERB.

Self-employed small business owners like yourself are eligible for CERB provided you meet the following criteria: one, you stopped working due to COVID-19 and two, you don’t earn more than $1,000 in a period of at least 14 consecutive days in the first benefit period and for the entire four-week benefit period of any subsequent claim.

You said you were each on the payroll for less than $1,000 a month but are no longer taking any salary. Assuming you are not taking any other compensation from the business, like dividends, it appears that you both qualify for CERB.

Regarding your final point, your company may collect receivables for income earned before the outbreak because of the nature of payment terms but as long as you meet the criteria described above, that shouldn’t affect your ability to qualify for CERB. (April 29, 2020)

Do outstanding payments impact CERB eligibility?

Morgan in Toronto:

I run my own photography business and have not worked since the second week of March, 2020 due to the COVID-19 situation.  I had several upcoming bookings that have now been postponed indefinitely. 

I have applied for and received the first two CERB payments.  I currently have one outstanding invoice for which payment is overdue, and I'm still trying to get the client to pay.  The job was shot in December 2019 before the holidays and was then approved, delivered and invoiced in January, 2020 (client was happy with the work).  The invoice total is over $1,000 but under $2,000 before taxes. 

After months of back and forth with the client it's looking like I may finally be paid this month, but my question is - does this late payment during this period ruin my eligibility to collect the CERB payments despite the fact that the money was "earned" and invoiced months before the pandemic broke out?  (April 21, 2020)

Chantel Chapman, founder of What The Finances:

Outstanding invoices and CERB eligibility

Chantel Chapman, founder of What The Finances, talks about how outstanding invoices can factor into a self-employed individual's eligibility for CERB.

Thank you so much, this is a great question because a lot of people are unclear about it. You did work in December, you invoice in January and you’re just being paid now. Are you eligible?

Well the government made an announcement in regards to creators, saying that if you receive royalty payments for work done prior to March 1st, even if it’s over $1,000, you’ll still be eligible. Now the question is ‘Does this apply to other types of payments that artists and creators receive?’ and we’re not that clear about it to be honest.

I would say it also depends on the way you do your bookkeeping, so if you recorded this payment as a January payment versus when you actually received it, you could say you haven’t received or made income in this month.

The government does acknowledge this uncertainty and they said they will not be unjustly penalizing people who apply on good faith and they later find out they’re ineligible. So worst case scenario, would you be prepared to pay back a portion of the money that you received for this month when that invoice came in if you had to? And if the answer is yes, I think you’re applying in good faith. (May 1, 2020)

Collecting CERB and CECRA

Richard in Etobicoke, Ont.:

Can a qualified small business owner, who has had to shut down his operation and who has been approved for the CERB, obtain benefits from the new federal rent subsidy?  Although CERB is very helpful to cover payroll for the owner, there are still significant costs like rent and utilities. Could this owner collect both? (April 24, 2020)

Mark Chan, VP of wealth planning at Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc.:

Small business owners can directly apply to benefit from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). If they are a tenant or sub-tenant of a commercial property with a valid and enforceable lease, they can also enter into a rental reduction agreement with a moratorium on eviction, for April, May and June that allows their landlord to participate in the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.

The CECRA provides eligible landlords that reduce their qualifying small business tenants’ rent by at least 75 per cent with forgivable loans of 50 per cent of the original rent. For a small business tenant to qualify, its monthly gross rent must not exceed $50,000 per location, their consolidated revenue must not exceed $20 million and they must have experienced a decline of at least 70 per cent in pre-COVID-19 revenues or temporarily ceased operations.

In its current form, a landlord could apply for CECRA if CEWS benefits were already received by the landlord and/or the small business tenant. (May 5, 2020)

CERB eligibility for contract workers between projects

Robert in Oakville, Ont.:

I am self-employed as a contract consultant on specific projects.  My last project was completed in the first quarter of 2020 prior to March 15, so I was not actively working on a project at the time the CERB program came into existence, but rather was searching for a new project.  Now that the various restrictions have come into place due to COVID-19, it is unlikely that a project opportunity will arise for some time.

My question regarding eligibility relates to the requirement that the applicant attest if they have “stopped or will stop working for reasons related to COVID-19” and has not “voluntarily” stopped working prior to COVID-19. 

As I happened to be between projects and therefore not actively working at or since March 15, am I eligible for the CERB program or does the applicant need to have been actively working and stopped specifically due to the COVID-19 shut down? (April 28, 2020)

Kelley Keehn, consumer advocate at FP Canada:

CERB eligibility for contract workers between projects

Kelley Keehn, consumer advocate at FP Canada, talks about the criteria for contract workers applying for CERB.

Thank you for your question. Based on my interpretation of the legislation, it doesn’t sound like you would be eligible for the CERB.

The eligibility criteria for CERB is that you’ve lost your income because of the crisis, and the fact that your contract expired before March 15 makes you really unlucky in this situation. If you had lost your contract, if it had been cancelled or disrupted because of the crisis, then you would have been eligible.

However, this is my interpretation I and encourage you to challenge it. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) actually has a dedicated line for CERB questions and you can reach them by 1-833-966-2099. (April 30, 2020)

To have your personal finance question answered an industry professional, send an email to askbnnbloomberg@bellmedia.ca.

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