Variety Magazine reports that the Small Business Administration hasn’t paid any money to independent venues since the Save Our Stages Act was passed. The act was passed in October 2020 and went into effect in late December 2020, promising to distribute $16 billion of federal pandemic relief among independent venues and theaters.
The main qualifications to receive funding through the act were that the venue or theater must have had a fully operational business on February 29, 2020, must have continued operating or must intend to resume operations in the future and must prove 25% gross earned revenue loss for any quarter of 2020 compared to the same calendar quarter of 2019. Countless venues qualified for aid under these conditions, and tens of thousands of venues reportedly submitted applications for ‘Shuttered Venue Operators Grants.’
A representative from the Small Business Administration, who previously stated that they intended to begin distributing relief funds last week, told Variety that none of the payments have been processed. They stated, “That’s true; the SBA is committed to quickly and efficiently delivering this pandemic relief to help our theatres, music venues, and more get the help they need. While there continues to be some fine-tuning of technical components of the program, we expect SVOG Priority 1 (90% revenue loss) awards to tentatively begin next week, kicking off a 14-day priority period. We will then move on to begin processing Priority 2 awards.”
However, even if the delay only continues for another week, many venues have been in need of aid since the beginning of the pandemic. The owner of one of the venues told Variety, “The SBA opened the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant applications one month ago today. They haven’t processed one application yet. And this morning, the SBA sent out emails to SVOG applicants, including me, saying, ‘Our records indicate you have started an application that has not been completed or submitted.’ My application has shown as ‘Submitted’ on the SBA’s web portal, with zero ‘Action Items’ since April 26th.”
The Small Business Administration had been able to quickly pay out Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in April 2020, and has been distributing relief payments to restaurants recently, but the Save Our Stages process has been handled differently. The website wasn’t opened for applications until early April 2021, but couldn’t handle the requests and went down for over two weeks. When applications reopened on April 26, it was like it had just opened for the first time since it hadn’t been able to process many of the initial requests for funding.
It had already taken eight months for the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and other lobbyists to convince Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act, and four months for the Small Business Administration to just launch the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant website through which venues could apply for aid. Variety reports that the site received over 17,000 applications within the first 24 hours of reopening on April 26.
Fortunately, venues can apply for both PPP and Shuttered Venues Operators Grant funding, thanks to a recent amendment to the Save Our Stages Act. Applications for Save Our Stages aid can be found here, and applications for PPP loans can be found here, at least until May 31.
A spokesperson for one of the authors of the Save Our Stages Act, Senator John Cornyn, criticized the delay in a statement to Variety, “The Administration had said they would be getting checks out the door to venues by the end of the month, but now they are making excuses for why they can’t meet that deadline. Although many venues are now able to reopen, they need this critical funding as soon as possible to cover rent and employee salaries.”
A media contact for NIVA named Audrey Fix Schaefer, commented to Variety, “This emergency relief can’t come soon enough for those on the precipice of going under. We’ll be very grateful when the money is distributed as Congress intended. It’s been very hard to hold on, but even tougher to plan for reopening without the money to hire back staff, rent venues and secure acts with deposits. It will be incredible when the $16 billion Congress earmarked to save our stages becomes a reality.”