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Five Months After ‘Save Our Stages’ Became Law, Indie Venues Have Received $0 in Federal Relief

Satellite club in Los Angeles closes
Satellite/Facebook

$0: That’s how much money the Small Business Administration has paid independent venues since Save Our Stages Act — which guarantees independent venues and theaters $16 billion in federal pandemic relief — was passed into law five months ago.

Indie venues have been struggling to keep afloat since the pandemic began more than 15 months ago, and they have received no federal aid, while countless other businesses have received billions in relief grants. Tens of thousands of venues have submitted applications for Shuttered Venue Operators Grants.

A rep for the SBA, which had said it hoped to begin distribution last week, confirmed to Variety that payments have not been processed, pointing to the latest in a long string of technical issues with its website.

“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,” the rep said.

Considering the speed with which PPP loans were sent out, and restaurants recently received aid, the delay is confounding, although the SBA says those processes were different for a variety of reasons.

But by any measure, the SBA’s failures are stunning: First it took several months for the SBA to open its website for the applications; when it opened, it immediately crashed and was not revived for two and a half weeks; there has been zero progress since it began successfully receiving applications on April 26, except to inform some venues, after several weeks, that its applications were incomplete.

A rep for Senator John Cornyn (R.-Tx.), an author of “Save Our Stages,” tells 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.”

One venue operator says in a comment to 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.”

Audrey Fix Shaefer of the National Independent Venue Association tells 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.”

It took eight months of intense lobbying to get Save Our Stages passed, then another four months for the Small Business Administration to launch its Shuttered Venues Operators Grant website, through which venues must apply for federal aid — it immediately crashed, and was relaunched two and a half weeks later, after dozens of members of Congress, particularly those who sponsored or supported Save Our Stages, called for a quick reopening. When the site finally opened, it received more than 17,000 applications in the first 24 hours.

The delay in relief funding has caused immeasurable problems for independent venues and theaters and has ironically aided large live-entertainment companies like Live Nation and AEG: Even with states opening back up, independent venues do not have the funding to secure talent or re-hire their staffs, festival promoters aren’t able to secure fields to hold their events, and the ecosystem around much of the live industry remains stalled — five and a half months after Save Our Stages was passed into law; PPP and the newly launched Restaurant Relief Fund were distributing millions of dollars within days.

Venues can apply for aid here, although the paragraphs above should be cautionary: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/covid-19-relief-options/shuttered-venue-operators-grant