Tired african american employee having headache after working on laptop in office, copy space

A federal spending watchdog says a program aiming to providing rent relief to small and medium-sized businesses will cost just under $1 billion this fiscal year.

The report this morning from the parliamentary budget officer says the commercial rental-assistance program will now cost $931 million after it was extended through to August.

The updated spending projections from the parliamentary budget office still put the program on a track to provide less help than the nearly $3 billion the Liberals budgeted.

The program provides forgivable loans that cover half of the rent for eligible small businesses, and also requires landlords to waive a further one-quarter of what they’d otherwise be owed.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business warned that too many small businesses still haven’t been able to access the help because it relies on landlords to apply and sets a very high bar for revenue losses to qualify.

The association had asked the government to allow tenants to directly apply for help, or make changes to a small-business loan program so that more of the outstanding amount could be forgiven if paid back on time.

Aiming to help businesses in a different way, the Liberals on Monday announced an extension of the Canada Emergency Business Account until the end of October.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland also said that the government is working with financial institutions to expand eligibility to companies that have been shut out of the program, including those who use personal rather than business bank accounts.

The government had said in mid-May that it was working to address that particular issue.

Freeland said details about eligibility changes will be released in the coming days.

The government said that the business loan program has provided more than $29 billion in credit through more than 730,000 loans.

Eligible businesses can receive interest-free loans of up to $40,000 through the program, and have one-quarter of the outstanding amount forgiven if the balance is repaid by Dec. 31, 2022.