Premier Doug Ford says that the province has only dispensed a fraction of the money from a $600 million fund meant to support shuttered businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and he is blaming a lack of applications for the delay.

The Progressive Conservative government set aside $300 million for businesses forced to close or significantly curtail their operations back in October and then doubled the fund to $600 million when it decided to move Toronto and Peel into a lockdown in November.

The money is intended to help eligible businesses offset fixed costs, including property taxes, hydro and natural gas bills.

Ford, however, told CP24 on Tuesday morning that the distribution of the funds has been slowed by a lack of applications in the early days of the program.

“You have never heard any elected official say come and get the money but there is $600 million there and nobody has taken us up on the offer,” he said as he visited an Etobicoke fire hall to drop off toys for a holiday drive on Tuesday morning. “Folks, small businesses, please go online and take advantage of it.”

Applications for money from the provincial fund opened on Nov. 16 but Ford said that only a “few million” has been dispensed so far.

This despite a myriad of concerns being raised by restaurants and retail stores who say that public health restrictions forcing them to suspend indoor dining and indoor shopping have put them on the brink of bankruptcy.

In fact on Tuesday, lobby group Restaurants Canada released a new survey which indicated that 65 per cent of restaurants are operating at a loss right now and nearly half of single-location restaurants (48 per cent) expect to close within six months if conditions don’t improve.

“I don’t understand why they aren’t taking us up on the offer,” Ford said on Tuesday as he lamented the lack of applications for funding so far.

The admission from Ford that funds have been slow to flow from the relief fund for businesses comes as in the wake of a report from the province’s financial watchdog indicating that the government was sitting on $12 billion in COVID-19 contingency funding as recently as Sept. 30.