Small businesses suffered especially badly from France’s strict nationwide lockdown, which brought the economy to a virtual standstill for two months.
From March 17th to May 11th, millions of people in France found themselves with no or little work.
To avoid what President Emmanuel Macron said would be “adding fear of bankruptcy and unemployment to the health crisis,” the French government quickly ramped up emergency schemes to help businesses cope with the heavy losses.
“The state will bear the financial burden of the people who have to stay home,” Macron said.
In addition to a vastly expanding the national furloughing scheme known as chômage partiel (partial unemployment), where businesses could have the state foot 80 percent of their employee's salaries, the government launched a brand new 'solidarity fund'.
Funded by the state, regional authorities and through donations, the fund would give up to €1,500 to what is France is called micro-entreprises – self employed people or businesses with less than 10 employees – for the months of March, April and May.
Originally at some €1.3 billion, it grew into €7 billion.
READ MORE: All you need to know about financial help in France for self-employed and business
More than 2.3 million grants
So far, some €3.11 billion have been spent on 2,300,211 grants for March and April, according to the economy ministry
Contacted by The Local, the economy ministry said it per today cannot say how many of these grants were extended for the month of March and April respectively.
Businesses were able to apply for both months, and will be able to apply for May too in June. The requirement to qualify for the fund in March was to have lost more than 50 percent of the income compared to the same month last year.
The criteria for April were changed after small business owners complained the comparison would be unfair – the 'yellow vest' protests had already severely decreased incomes for many in April 2019. For a detailed overview on the rules, click here
However, as of April 21st, a little more than 703,000 grants had been extended for the month of March.
Most in Paris
On the map below you can see the total distribution of grants on the different French regions.
Photo: Economy Ministry
The greater Paris Île-de-France region benefited the most (€633.36 million) of the total grants extended, followed by the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region (€407.05 million) and the two southern regions Alpes-Maritimes (€338.7 million) and Occitanie (€331.49 million).
Inside Île-de-France, most of the grants have gone to the centre of Paris itself, €211.8 million in total.
If you click on this link
, it takes you to the government's website where you find an interactive version of the same map that allows you to break it down further, to see in detail where grants have gone on a local level.
Most individual self-employed
Broken down in categories, the majority of people who have benefited from the scheme are registered self-employed individuals (55.5 percent), while small business owners account for nearly 30 percent of the total grants.
The final two categories are 'societé par action simplifié' (SAS) – a specific judicial business category in France – and 'others'.
Most to the trade sector
The graphic below breaks the different categories into socio-professional ones, so you can see how much different sectors have benefited from the fund.
So far, more than €524 million in grants have been extended to shop-keepers and other traders for March and April. As France asked all non-essential shops to close down during the lockdown, anyone whose shop was not a food store, boulangerie, cheese monger or butcher's shop was likely to be required to close down by an official decree.
Anyone concerned by the decree automatically qualifies for the solidarity fund – provided they had less than 10 employees and an average annual income of less than €1 million.
Then there is the hotel and restaurant businesses.
Around €380 million has been given to this sector, in which businesses either had close down or severely reduce to only delivery or takeaway services. Incomes in this sector have plunged and will likely continue to do so for the weeks and even months ahead, as it was not able to reopen with the rest of the country on May 11th.
The country's construction sector has received more than €375 million in grants. People doing other service activities – hairdressers for example – have got around €328 million, then there is what is defined as 'scientific and technical activities', 'health and social action' and 'transport and storage'.
'Something to live off'
€1,500 is more than France’s minimum wage (€1,219). For many, it is far from enough to cover their expenses, but the government's goal was above all to ensure that people got enough to put food on the table that month.
“I get a lot of messages from people saying, ‘I received the €1,500, it’s not a gold mine, but at least I have something to live off,” France's Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told BFMTV
This week, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that the fund would stay in place for the country's tourism sector – which has not yet been able to reopen – until the end of 2020.
For this sector, the government will change the current criteria for accessing the fund so that businesses with up to 20 employees (against 10 today) and an average annual income of up to €2 million (against €1 million today) may apply for the fund.
If you are unsure about how to apply, click here
for our explanatory article.