CEWS 2.0 – Why I see it as another attack on the small business owner
July 18, 2017 – The Minister of Finance announces draft legislation of the Tax on Split Income (TOSI) rule changes that would have far reaching impact into the small business community and although some changes were made, the rules have negatively impacted small businesses ever since and will continue for years to come.
Three years later, July 17, 2020 – The same Minister of Finance tables legislation of the changes to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), what I like to call CEWS 2.0 which will also continue for years to come.
Before you try to correct me and say that the subsidy is only for 2020, please read on.
While many media and politician soundbites like to give the impression of how CEWS 2.0 will help small business, I cannot help but see this as an opposite approach.
Do not get me wrong, money is money, and businesses will take all the help they can get, and if my business qualifies, I will take full advantage of it, but I personally don’t have to pay a tax specialist to figure it out.
There are two new calculations to CEWS 2.0.
- a baseline amount based on the percentage of revenue decline in the month compared to either the same month in 2019, or the January-February 2020 average revenue amount.
- a top-up amount based on the three-previous month revenue decline where it exceeds 50%.
Instead of an all or nothing at a 30% decline, even a 1% decline will get you a pro-rated payout, although the costs of figuring out your eligible amount might outweigh the benefit.
In fact, you could have an increase in revenue compared to this time last year and still get a payout. Make sense?
If the previous three months were greater than a 50% decline you qualify for the top-up amount regardless of the result for the current month.
The complexity of the CEWS design will reward those that have experts in their corner compared to those that do not.
Consider the following scenario:
A large public corporation that has employees making more than $1,129 a week will be able to not only have a simple calculation, they will not have anyone “related” to the corporation that they have to do extra baseline remuneration calculations for. Just like CEWS 1.0, in CEWS 2.0 every employee including the CEO will be subsidized in a public corporation, with no clawback mechanism (as recommended in my earlier article, the Keep it Simple S…ubsidy).
In the large public corporation, the bookkeeping, payroll, and accounting function will be up to date and (I would hope) accurate because of internal controls. They also frequently have large accounting and I.T. departments to easily calculate the eligibility and amounts for such a subsidy.
But let us compare this to a small owner-managed business like a restaurant for example. The profit margins in restaurants are already sliced thinner than the meat on a charcuterie board. Add to this the extra costs of social distancing and safety precautions, as well as the inconsistency of regulations for being closed, re-opened, and closed again as we navigate the pandemic and restaurants seem like a lost cause for a business owner.
Assuming they are able to still successfully navigate the minefield that COVID19 has placed on their livelihoods, many restaurants have dozens of part-time staff, including family members.
So right away we have a glaring difference: relatives.
The rules in CEWS 2.0 has not reduced any of the requirements for calculations to be made with respect to relatives working in the business. Relatives must have been being paid as a wage employee during one of a few optional calculation periods prior to March 15, 2020 to be eligible for any of the CEWS.
Do you remember TOSI?
TOSI basically was designed so you could only income split dividends with related persons under a complex set of strict rules. Even though restaurants are considered “food services”, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Finance have in Example 4B of their TOSI explanatory notes an example of a restaurant which would not be considered a service. In doing so, they sent the message to continue to pay yourselves in dividends if you run a family owned restaurant.
As a result, family owned restaurants continued to do just that.
Fast forward to 2020 and you now have family members working in a low margin business, with no support for their dividend remuneration under CEWS 1.0 or CEWS 2.0.
Even if the small business owner was one of the lucky fortune tellers that decided to pay themselves wages, they still have to do a baseline calculation (two different ways – weekly or bi-weekly – for each claim period) just to figure out how much they might be able to get.
Keep in mind the bi-weekly periods are the periods that were set by finance, not the period you may already be using for your payroll cutoff.
Now we have the part-time restaurant staff in my example. The family business now must calculate the average weekly earnings of each individual staff member during the claim period to figure out what the maximum amount of benefit is.
To make it better, the bookkeeping records better be pristine and accurate on a month to month basis, rather than on an annual basis like many, if not most, small businesses do.
Enter in that sale on the 1st of this month instead of the 31st of last month, and you could be looked at as “gaming the system”.
If you are a late-night pub restaurant, make sure that you are closing out the tills at 11:59pm on the 31st of the month – or your numbers would be inaccurate and you could be called a “tax cheat.”
I can’t wait for the Halloween pub crawls this year, when the weekly earnings of those late-night pub staff will have to also be cut off at midnight Saturday, October 31st. At least there will be plenty of mask wearing that night.
So, we now have increased the compliance costs for the small restaurants for monthly reporting, weekly payroll calculations, overnight cutoffs on month-ends, and special treatment for relatives of the business.
It doesn’t take a tax specialist, a cost-accounting CPA, or a PhD in mathematics to figure out that this is going to cost more per employee in overhead costs to the small family business in comparison to the large public corporation.
While I am more than happy to receive money from my clients for doing the immense research and calculations that will be required, the fact remains for the small business owner, is all of this extra work and compliance cost worth it in the end?
Sadly, you will not know if it is worth it, until after you have put in the work to calculate it.
If you happen to be one of the lucky ones that qualifies, you will then have to track the amount of CEWS you received for each employee separately.
This is because the CRA in question 29 of their Frequently Asked Questions on CEWS said that there will be a new box at the bottom of the T4 required to be filled in for the amount of CEWS received for that employee.
But what about my earlier statement that CEWS will impact businesses for years to come? With your calculation and compliance is going on until the end of February 2021 with the addition of the T4 box, does it end there?
February 2021 will just be the beginning. This will begin the audits of the CEWS claims (if they have not already started).
Since the CEWS is required to be reported on the 2020 T4 slips filed by the business in February 2021, would it be fair to say that the three-year tax compliance clock only begins at that time?
This means from now until February of 2024 you can expect to have a call from (likely the payroll audit division of) the CRA to take a look at:
- your weekly employee wage calculations;
- the monthly revenue calculations;
- the monthly cut-offs;
- the timing of your invoices;
- the CEWS amounts allocated to individual staff members; and
- the scrutiny of amounts paid to relatives;
All while you have the joy of having an internal debate with yourself on whether to pay your tax specialist to deal with them, or to try and go at it alone and confused.
July 2017 – TOSI
July 2020 – CEWS 2.0
I wonder what July 2023 will bring.
This article was originally published on July 23, 2020.
Cory G. Litzenberger, CPA, CMA, CFP, C.Mgr is the founder of CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors (CGLtax.ca). Cory is an advocate for small business in his role as Alberta Governor for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB); converts legislation into layman terms for fun; and provides Canadian tax advisory services to other CPA firms across Canada; opinions are his own.
Biography of Cory G. Litzenberger, CPA, CMA, CFP, C.Mgr can be found here.
Canada needs 300,000 new rental units to avoid gap quadrupling by 2026: report
An aerial view of houses in Oshawa, Ont. is shown on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. A Royal Bank of Canada report predicts Canada’s rental housing shortage will quadruple to 120,000 units by 2026 without a significant boost in rental stock. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
By Sammy Hudes in Toronto
Canada’s rental housing shortage will quadruple to 120,000 units by 2026 without a significant boost in stock, Royal Bank of Canada said in a report Wednesday.
In order to reach the optimal vacancy rate of three per cent, the report suggested Canada would need to add 332,000 rental units over the next three years, which would mark an annual increase of 20 per cent compared with the 70,000 units built last year.
The research analyzed vacancy rate data released in January by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
Canada’s vacancy rate fell to 1.9 per cent in 2022, its lowest point in 21 years, from 3.1 per cent in 2021.
Competition for units also drove the highest annual increase in rent growth on record, by 5.6 per cent for a two-bedroom unit.
Canada’s rental housing stock grew by 2.4 per cent in 2022, led by Calgary at 7.4 per cent and Ottawa-Gatineau at 5.5 per cent, while Toronto and Montreal saw the smallest percentage increases at 2.1 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.
“We haven’t seen that many additions to the purpose-built inventory in almost a decade, so you would think that added supply of units would ease some of the competition, but what the CMHC rental market data revealed to us was that it didn’t,” said RBC economist Rachel Battaglia.
Slow growth in Canada’s two most populous cities has been outpaced by rapidly increasing demand, partly fuelled by high immigration levels, she said. Annual federal immigration targets are set to grow eight per cent by 2025, meaning demand is unlikely to let up.
Battaglia also pointed to affordability and behavioural preferences for the influx of rentals sought. She said more Canadians are choosing to live alone, meaning fewer incomes per household.
“You have a lot of people being funnelled into the rental market who maybe would have liked to own something but it’s just not financially in the books for them right now,” said Battaglia.
The report estimated an existing deficit of 25,000 to 30,000 units of rental stock across Canada. In addition to building more supply, it recommended turning condo units into rentals, converting commercial buildings and adding rental suites to existing homes to help ease the pressure.
Without such measures, Battaglia said the market could “become infinitely more competitive.”
“Which is not something that we want to realize given the competition we’re already seeing,” she said.
“You’re already seeing rents increase dramatically.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.
Fed raises key rate by quarter-point despite bank turmoil
Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. With inflation still high and anxieties gripping the banking industry, the Federal Reserve and its chair, Jerome Powell, will face a complicated task at their latest policy meeting Wednesday and in the months to follow: How to tame inflation by continuing to raise interest rates while also helping to restore faith in the financial system – all without triggering a severe recession. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
By Christopher Rugaber in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve extended its year-long fight against high inflation Wednesday by raising its key interest rate by a quarter-point despite concerns that higher borrowing rates could worsen the turmoil that has gripped the banking system.
“The U.S. banking system is sound and resilient,” the Fed said in a statement after its latest policy meeting ended.
At the same time, the Fed warned that the financial upheaval stemming from the collapse of two major banks is “likely to result in tighter credit conditions” and “weigh on economic activity, hiring and inflation.”
The central bank also signaled that it’s likely nearing the end of its aggressive series of rate hikes. In a statement, it removed language that had previously indicated it would keep raising rates at upcoming meetings. The statement now says “some additional policy firming may be appropriate” — a weaker commitment to future hikes.
And in a series of quarterly projections, the Fed’s policymakers forecast that they expect to raise their key rate just one more time – from its new level Wednesday of about 4.9% to 5.1%, the same peak level they had projected in December.
Still, in its latest statement, the Fed included some language that indicated that its fight against inflation remains far from complete. It said that hiring is “running at a robust pace” and noted that “inflation remains elevated.” It removed a phrase, “inflation has eased somewhat,” that it had included in its previous statement in February.
The latest rate hike suggests that Chair Jerome Powell is confident that the Fed can manage a dual challenge: Cool still-high inflation through higher loan rates while defusing turmoil in the banking sector through emergency lending programs and the Biden administration’s decision to cover uninsured deposits at the two failed U.S. banks.
The Fed’s signal that the end of its rate-hiking campaign is in sight may also soothe financial markets as they continue to digest the consequences of the U.S. banking turmoil and the takeover last weekend of Credit Suisse by its larger rival UBS.
The central bank’s benchmark short-term rate has now reached its highest level in 16 years. The new level will likely lead to higher costs for many loans, from mortgages and auto purchases to credit cards and corporate borrowing. The succession of Fed rate hikes have also heightened the risk of a recession.
The Fed’s policy decision Wednesday reflects an abrupt shift. Early this month, Powell had told a Senate panel that the Fed was considering raising its rate by a substantial half-point. At the time, hiring and consumer spending had strengthened more than expected, and inflation data had been revised higher.
The troubles that suddenly erupted in the banking sector two weeks ago likely led to the Fed’s decision to raise its benchmark rate by a quarter-point rather than a half-point. Some economists have cautioned that even a modest quarter-point rise in the Fed’s key rate, on top of its previous hikes, could imperil weaker banks whose nervous customers may decide to withdraw significant deposits.
Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank were both brought down, indirectly, by higher rates, which pummeled the value of the Treasurys and other bonds they owned. As anxious depositors withdrew their money en masse, the banks had to sell the bonds at a loss to pay the depositors. They were unable to raise enough cash to do so.
After the fall of the two banks, Credit Suisse was taken over by UBS. Another struggling bank, First Republic, has received large deposits from its rivals in a show of support, though its share price plunged Monday before stabilizing.
The Fed is deciding, in effect, to treat inflation and financial turmoil as two separate problems, to be managed simultaneously by separate tools: Higher rates to address inflation and greater Fed lending to banks to calm financial turmoil.
The Fed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Treasury Department agreed to insure all the deposits at Silicon Valley and Signature, including accounts that exceed the $250,000 limit. The Fed also created a new lending program to ensure that banks can access cash to repay depositors, if needed.
But economists warn that many mid-size and small banks, in order to conserve capital, will likely become more cautious in their lending. A tightening of bank credit could, in turn, reduce business spending on new software, equipment and buildings. It could also make it harder for consumers to obtain auto or other loans.
Some economists worry that such a slowdown in lending could be enough to tip the economy into recession. Wall Street traders are betting that a weaker economy will force the Fed to start cutting rates this summer.
The Fed would likely welcome slower growth, which would help cool inflation. But few economists are sure what the effects would be of a pullback in bank lending.
Other major central banks are also seeking to tame high inflation without worsening the financial instability caused by the two U.S. bank collapses and the hasty sale of Credit Suisse to UBS. Even with the anxieties surrounding the global banking system, for instance, the Bank of England faces pressure to approve an 11th straight rate hike Thursday with annual inflation having reached 10.4%.
And the European Central Bank, saying Europe’s banking sector was resilient, last week raised its benchmark rate by a half point to combat inflation of 8.5%. At the same time, the ECB president, Christine Lagarde, has shifted to an open-ended stance regarding further rate increases
In the United States, most recent data still points to a solid economy and strong hiring. Employers added a robust 311,000 jobs in February, the government report. And while the unemployment rate rose, from 3.4% to a still-low 3.6%, that mostly reflected an influx of new job-seekers who were not immediately hired.
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