Many potential applicants spent hours trying to apply to the program when it first opened on April 8. The agency took the portal offline before the end of the day and did not accept any applications, leaving people in the dark about when it would reopen until Thursday.
“Simply put, this is emergency relief that can’t come too soon,” Audrey Fix Schaefer, a board member for the National Independent Venue Association, said in a statement.
“Every single day that passes small business are receiving eviction notices, all the while $16 billion has been waiting for them,” added Schaefer, who is also the communications director for a group of venues in Washington, DC, including The Anthem.
First to close, last to open
The Small Business Administration was tasked with establishing the new $16 billion grant program while also administering two other key relief programs: the Paycheck Protection Program, which lends forgivable loans to small businesses, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which makes longer-term, low-interest loans.
Those who receive a grant from the Shuttered Venue Operators program could receive a larger sum than under Paycheck Protection and, crucially, won’t have to pay it back.
The new grant can total up to $10 million or up to 45% of their 2019 revenue per eligible business, whichever is less. The money can be used for expenses such as payroll costs, rent, utilities and personal protective equipment.
Operators who have lost at least 25% of their revenue last year are eligible and the law gives priority to those who have suffered the most economic loss — starting with an exclusive 14-day period to those who lost at least 90%.
A long wait for relief despite bipartisan support
Soon after states and cities shut down last March, industry leaders banded together to form the National Independent Venue Association and launched a lobbying campaign known as Save Our Stages. The group now has 3,000 members.
The pressure helped create bipartisan support for an emergency grant program. A bill was introduced in the summer by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York was a big advocate and could be spotted wearing a “Save Our Stages” mask on Capitol Hill.
But live venue owners were kept waiting until December’s relief bill. It provided $15 billion in grants for live venue operators and promoters, theaters, and some museums, zoos and aquariums.
Owners were still waiting for a chance to apply for a grant when Congress passed another huge Covid relief bill in March, known as the American Rescue plan. It added $1.25 billion to the program and allowed them to apply for a second loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, a separate federal aid program for small businesses.