Some Cochrane area small businesses are among those feeling the pinch of meeting the Jan. 24 repayment deadline of the unforgiven portion of their Canada Emergency Business Accounts (CEBA).

They join thousands of small businesses across Canada challenged to fully pay out the outstanding amount by the deadline due to a slower than anticipated recovery from restrictions placed on businesses during the pandemic.

Kelly Carson, executive director of the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce, says many local businesses received the funding and some have indicated it has placed them in a challenging situation, but is uncertain if it means they will be forced to close their doors.

The local chamber supports the push by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce to extend the non-forgivable CEBA and Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) repayment deadline to December 31, 2025.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has been lobbying to extend the deadline until December 31, 2024.

"Most small firms have yet to recover from two years of on-and-off COVID restrictions," states CFIB president Dan Kelly. "Only half of small firms are back to 2019 levels of sales and the average business has taken on $100,000 in new debt just to survive. If Ottawa can find billions of funding for giant multinational car companies in the matter of weeks, surely it can allow Canada’s small businesses more time to repay a loan they were forced to take on just to survive the pandemic."

Over 125,000 businesses in Alberta were approved for CEBA and over 4,500 businesses under Western Economic Diversification Canada were approved for Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) loans to assist with operational expenses at a time when business restrictions impacted revenues. It accounts for over 14 per cent, or $6.8 billion, of the $49.2 billion provided through CEBAs across the nation.

The federal government provided loans of $40,000 and $60,000, with qualifying businesses being forgiven a portion of it should it be repaid by the established deadline. Those who qualified will be forgiven $10,000 for a $40,000 loan, and $20,000 on a $60,000 loan.

In the most recent update, CEBA officials state if a loan remains outstanding on January 19, 2024, it will convert to a non-amortizing term loan of five per cent per year with full principal repayment due on December 31, 2026. That's a one-year extension from the previous repayment deadline of Dec. 31, 2025.

CEFA officials says if a loan is assigned to the CEBA program, some leniency on the repayment schedule will be considered on a case-by-case situation, based upon ability to repay.

Should a business close, repayment is still required.

Those disqualified from the program were required to make repayment by December 31, 2023.

Local MP Blake Richards says small business were already being attacked and even vilified by the Trudeau government.

"Then we come to COVID and essentially the government shut down a lot of our businesses and then they've bundled so badly the support measures they out in place to help them survive," says Richards. "They've spent all kinds of money but haven't actually achieved the goal."

"It's heartbreaking to see people who have built their businesses for their whole life. It's been their labour of love, and now they're faced with a situation that they may have to consider closing their doors, and it just didn't need to be that way."

In September, the federal government extended the repayment deadline to Jan. 18, 2024 from December 31, 2023 for loan holders in good standing. At this point, no further extension has been announced.