SBA Says ‘Save Our Stages’ Funding Approval Notices Are Being Sent to Indie Venues — But No Money Yet

Satellite club in Los Angeles closes

UPDATED: The Small Business Administration stated Wednesday that notices of approved relief money from the $16 billion Save Our Stages act — which was passed into law nearly five months ago, although no money has been distributed to date — began to be sent to independent venues on Wednesday morning.

While SBA chief Isabel Guzman stated during two separate Congressional hearings on Wednesday that “awards” — which would seem to indicate money — have begun to be sent, a rep for the organization clarified the “semantics” of the statement to Variety, noting that the official wording means notice of awards (i.e. notice of approval of relief funds) has been sent to “Priority 1” venues, those that have lost 90% of annual revenue or more due to the pandemic.

The venues must then confirm the information in the notice before relief money can be sent; the rep was not able to say definitively how soon after that confirmation venues might expect to receive their funds, but said it could be as little as two business days.

“As of today, the SBA has begun sending notices of awards to approved applicants of the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant program,” an SBA statement reads. “We have hundreds of SBA staff working around the clock to continue processing, approving, and disbursing funds as quickly as possible to get our live entertainment venues back on track.”

While neither Variety nor the National Independent Venues Assn. have heard confirmation from venues that they have received either notice or funds, the SBA rep said that more than 13,000 applications have been received by the organization; any venues that have, please contact tips@variety.com, along with contact information.

A rep for NIVA tells Variety, “NIVA isn’t aware of any members that have received award notices. The emergency relief can’t come soon enough and we’ll be incredibly grateful when it starts flowing.”

Liz Tallent at the Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C., is just one venue that confirmed to Variety on Wednesday afternoon that it had not received notice.

“Unfortunately we have received no notification that we were approved, nor even that our application has begun to be processed (despite the fact that we are Priority Group 1),” she wrote. “In fact, I’m not yet aware of a single SVOG applicant that has been approved nor that has received notice of award amount, let alone gotten funding yet.”

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.

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 and less complicated than the venues’ qualification process for a variety of reasons.

But by any measure, the SBA’s nearly five months of delays have been disastrous: 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.

Hundreds of venues have gone out of business due to the pandemic, and many more have done so in the months since “Save Our Stages” was passed into law.

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.”

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.

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