Independent music venues and theaters in the U.S. have been mostly shuttered for 13 months now — and although the #SaveOurStages act was signed into law on Dec. 27, promising $16 billion in relief to those businesses, when the website through which venues could apply for relief finally opened last Thursday, it immediately crashed. No date for its reopening has been announced.
Congresspeople who supported the Save Our Stages act have called upon the Small Business Administration, which operates the website hosting the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program , to fix the problem.
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who signed on as a sponsor of the act and has spoken publicly in its support multiple times, tells Variety: “We’ve been in touch with SBA to push for them to quickly fix the issues and relaunch the program once all problems have been addressed.”
An aide to Rep. John Cornyn, who authored the act with Senator Amy Klobuchar, wrote in an email to Variety: “Our office continues to communicate with the SBA about implementation of the ‘Save Our Stages’ Act. Sen. Cornyn wants this grant program to re-open for applications as soon as possible.”
While sources close to the situation acknowledge that this is likely the first time the SBA has taken on a program of this size and scope, they also acknowledge that venues and theaters have had little to no income for more than a year and the Save Our Stages act passed four months ago, leaving the SBA ample time to prepare.
In its most recent update, the SBA wrote on Wednesday that it “has identified and fixed the initial issues related to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal. When we re-started rigorous testing with our vendors and did additional risk analysis, our teams identified other potential performance issues, which we are working to resolve,” although it gives no timeline for when the portal might reopen.
#SVOG UPDATE: The SBA has identified and fixed the initial issues related to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal.
— SBA (@SBAgov) April 14, 2021
The problem has caused no small amount of additional difficulty the venues and theaters that have been hanging by a thread waiting for relief and now have to find a way to hang on even longer.
A rep for the SBA wrote to Variety on Monday: “To confirm, upon launching the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal on April 8, technical issues arose despite multiple successful tests of the application process. After working with our vendors to address the issues as quickly as possible, the SBA determined at approximately 4:15 p.m. EDT to shut down the portal to ensure fair and equal access once reopened since this is first come first serve. This decision was not made lightly as we understand the need to get relief quickly to this hard-hit industry.
“Entities can still register in the portal and the SBA will share updates in collaboration with industry associations as well as via social media, direct e-communication with SVOG registrants, and the dedicated SVOG website https://www.sba.gov/svogrant as they come available. Also, we will once again share advance notice of the time and date for the reopening of the SVOG application portal so entities can be appropriately prepared. At this time, it will remain temporarily suspended. We will continue to keep the public informed via media and digital outreach, including Twitter.”
The National Independent Venues Association, which has been leading the charge for relief for more than a year, said in a statement: “We realize this is an enormous undertaking for the SBA and we appreciate everything the agency is doing to ensure this program is administered as Congress intended as expeditiously as possible. The opening can’t come soon enough. The fate of our industry’s survival is dependent on it. To say we have been anxiously awaiting the day we when can apply for this emergency relief is an understatement.”
It would seem logical for the SBA to stagger the application process following the protocols set by Save Our Stages, whereby venues that have suffered 90% revenue loss can apply for the first two weeks, following a similar schedule for venues that have lost 70% and then 25% of their revenue.
The Save Our Stages bill allows applicable businesses and institutions to apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to cover six months of payroll and costs including rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25 percent of their annual revenue to qualify, and those have lost more than 90 percent will be able to apply in the first two weeks after the bill is signed into law, with others in the following two weeks. Grants will be capped at $10 million; publicly traded companies and other large businesses are not eligible.