UPDATED: It’s not yet time to pop the champagne, but one of the most divided and dysfunctional Congresses in U.S. history announced Sunday that it has finally reached a deal to pass the long-overdue $900 billion stimulus deal to send aid to American citizens and businesses leveled by the pandemic — including the Save Our Stages act to provide around $15 billion in relief to independent music venues and movie theaters that have been almost entirely shuttered since March.
“We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has done more to delay the deal than virtually anyone, said Sunday night, according to the New York Times. “More help is on the way.”
True to form, this Congress went down to the wire with negotiations, barely avoiding another government shutdown. The House is expected to finalize the deal on Sunday night, with the Senate following shortly after. Final votes are expected on Monday, then the bill will go to President Trump, who has done little actual presidential work since his loss in the November election.
The Save Our Stages bill was cosponsored in the Senate by Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tx.).
While specifics were unclear at the time of this article’s publication, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote as part of a statement on the agreement: “Democrats secured critical funding and policy changes to help small businesses, including minority-owned businesses, and nonprofits recover from the pandemic. The agreement includes over $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and better assist independent restaurants, and includes $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. The agreement also includes $20 billion for targeted EIDL Grants which are critical to many smaller businesses on Main Street.”
“Independent venues were some of the first establishments to close down and will likely be some of the last to open. I refuse to sit by and let the music die, which is why I was proud to introduce the bipartisan Save our Stages Act,” Klobuchar said. “This funding will get small entertainment venues the help they need to make ends meet and serve our communities for generations to come.”
“Texas’ historic and world-class entertainment venues were some of the first businesses to close, and many remain shuttered nine months later,” Cornyn said. “I’m proud to have led the charge in the Senate to ensure they have the resources to overcome lost revenue and mounting bills, and I urge the President to quickly sign this into law so Texans can enjoy their favorite artists at dance halls and live music venues for years to come.”
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a cosponsor of Save Our Stages, said: “I am especially pleased that this bill will provide money for bars and restaurants, and $15 billion in SBA grants for theatre operators and small venue owners through the Save Our Stages Act. These venues are so important to my state and many states across the country —they are the lifeblood of our communities. They were first to close, and will be the last to open. The bill gives them a fighting chance.”
In a statement, Dayna Frank, owner and CEO of Minneapolis’ legendary First Avenue concert venue and board president of the National Independent Venue Association, said: “We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the COVID-19 Relief Bill. We’re also incredibly grateful that this bill provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which will help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this economic crisis. We urge swift passage of this legislation, which will assist those in the greatest need and ensure the music lives on for generations to come.”
In a two-hour hearing on Tuesday morning, representatives for the concert industry, which has been ravaged by the pandemic shutdown, made a passionate and compelling case for federal aid before the U.S. Senate.
“We’re here before you with our hats in our hands,” said witness Michael Strickland, owner of the lighting company Bandit Lites in Knoxville, TN.
“Please don’t let the music die,” said Adam Hartke, who owns two independent venues in Wichita, KS. “Please save our stages.”
Several statistics that have been circulated in recent months by NIVA were aired, including the fact that 90% of the country’s independent venues will close within weeks without federal aid; and that musicians on average derive between 70% and 90% of their income from live performance, which has been virtually nonexistent since mid-March. Witnesses and senators also pointed to the economic activity connected to concert venues, noting that studies have shown that every dollar spent at a venue generates $12 in revenue for surrounding or connected businesses.
Over the course of the hearing, during which witnesses and senators spoke in turn, several themes emerged. Most prominent is the fact that the PPP aid that venues and other business received in March was largely used up by June, and that payroll is just one of the rapidly mounting “core” expenses venues are facing.
David Fay, president/CEO of the Bushnell Center in Hartford, CT, spoke of the economic hardship that inner cities will face if venues close down. He said that recent months in Hartford have felt like a “pandemic-induced time warp, it’s a ghost town like the 1960s,” and spoke of the hard work that was done to revitalize downtown centers. “It’s an existential threat not only to our industry, but to the businesses around it.”