HALIFAX -- Hundreds of Nova Scotia's small business owners have signed a letter asking the premier to amend his rent deferral plan.

Small business is a major economic driver in the Maritimes and many business owners are concerned they won’t survive the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19.

Melinda O’Hearn, the owner of Creative Cuts Salon and Spa in Dartmouth, N.S., was forced to close her business when Nova Scotia began to deal with the outbreak. She says she is uncertain what the future holds.

“We're kind of lost. There's no options being given to us because we were ordered to close,” says O’Hearn.

It's a similar story for small businesses across the country, struggling to stay afloat with little or no income.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced a rent deferral program Friday for small business operators that were forced to close under the public health order.

Under the program, retail and commercial landlords are encouraged to defer lease payments for the next three months for businesses that had to close. Landlords who participate by granting businesses a three-month deferral can claim losses of up to $5,000 per month, if the renting business does not continue operating.

However, reaction to the program has been mixed.

“No one else is taking on the risk here, not the landlords, not the banks, not the financial institutions,” says Lara Cusson, chair of Nova Scotia’s Small Business Affiliation.

Alexander Henden is the editor of Curated Food & Drink Magazine. He says municipal governments, utility companies, and others need to get involved, and the focus should be on grants, not loans.

“Everyone needs to step up and get into this thing. This is a crisis,” says Henden.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and these guys, so many of them are going to go missing if we don't get them out of this."

The premier clarified the details of the rent program Monday, saying deferred expenses should be spread over the term of the lease.

“This is an opportunity for landlords to work with their tenants, whose businesses have been closed or shut down because of COVID-19,” said McNeil.

However, time is a luxury many small business owners say they simply don't have.

As far as O’Hearn is concerned, she says she won’t go down without a fight.

“I probably would put myself in complete debt to continue until I just couldn't pay it anymore and I was shut down,” says O’Hearn.