When is $16 billion equal to $0? It’s not a riddle, but rather the reality facing America’s independent venues, as more than five months after Congress passed the $16 billion Save Our Stages Act, not a single dime has been distributed in relief. As Variety reports, a pandemic crisis has been compounded by a crisis of bureaucracy.
The bipartisan SOS Act was signed by Donald Trump last December, and its passage was hailed by artists including Dave Grohl. But while other programs targeting small business, such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), saw relatively quick rollouts, the Small Business Administration’s implementation of SOS has been beset by delays and technical snafus.
The SBA didn’t launch a website until last month, when it received more than 17,000 applications within 24 hours. The site immediately crashed, and wasn’t brought back online for more than two weeks. It didn’t successfully receive applications until April 26th, and despite the Biden administration’s assurances that Shuttered Venue Operators Grants would go out by the end of May, technical problems make that impossible. Just this week, the SBA erroneously flagged completed applications as incomplete.
“The SBA opened the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant applications one month ago today,” one venue operator said. “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 SBA has acknowledge the issues, and is now targeting next week to start processing SVOG applications. A representative for the administration said, “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.”
It’s been estimated that 90% of venues nationwide closed during the pandemic, many permanently. Even those hoping to reopen soon are depending on SVOGs to retain staff, purchase supplies, and put down deposits to secure acts.
Audrey Fix Shaefer of the National Independent Venue Association explained: “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.”
In the meantime, independent venues have been left to their own devices. Last year, the Save Our Stages Fest raised more than $2 million, though billions more are needed.
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