Theaters and music halls still awaiting Covid relief funds approved in December

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The Anthem, a concert hall in Washington, DC, closed for the pandemic in March 2020 and has yet to reopen.


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Funding for what is known as the Closed Site Operator Subsidy Program was approved by Congress in December as part of a massive $ 900 billion Covid relief program. In mid-March, the Small Business Administration finally announced that it would launch the app portal on April 8 – but it crashed within hours due to technical issues and remains offline.

The agency has yet to set a reopening date and a spokesperson said it had discovered additional issues it was working to resolve.

This leaves owners like Stephen Chilton, who runs The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, completely in the dark as to when he might see the relief money. Arizona lifted restrictions on the reopening earlier this month, but it doesn’t have the money to hire staff, book bands and market shows.

“I don’t know how to fully reopen without these funds,” said Chilton, who spent hours trying to apply for one of the grants last Thursday before the portal went offline.

Revenues from the Rebel Lounge fell by over 90% last year. It has reopened as a cafe, but the rock club with a capacity of 300 people has not put on a show and is losing money every month.

A long wait for relief despite bipartisan support

Shortly after the shutdowns of states and cities last March, industry leaders banded together to form the National Independent Venue Association and launched a lobbying campaign known as Save Our Stages. The group now has 3,000 members.

The pressure helped create bipartisan support for an emergency grants program. A bill was introduced this summer by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York was a strong advocate and could be spotted wearing a “Save Our Stages” mask on Capitol Hill.

But live room owners were waiting for December’s relief bill. It has provided $ 15 billion in grants to operators and promoters of performance halls, theaters and some museums, zoos and aquariums.

Homeowners were still waiting for a chance to apply for a grant when Congress passed another massive Covid relief bill in March, known as the US bailout. He added $ 1.25 billion to the program.

When the portal couldn’t open last week, it was the last straw for many sites that were struggling to hold on.

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“We thought our life jacket was finally here,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, board member of the National Independent Venue Association and director of communications for a group of venues in Washington, DC, including The Anthem.

“I have heard of more sites being closed over the past week. When you have no income and all the overheads, no organization – no matter how successful it was before the pandemic – can survive, ”she said.

Lose 90% of income

The Small Business Administration was tasked with establishing the new grant program, while administering two other key relief programs: the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses, and interest loans.

Many live sites are also eligible for these other programs, although Paycheck Protection Program loans only last a few months. Those who receive a grant from the Shuttered Venue Operators program may receive a larger amount and will not have to repay it.

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The new grant can total up to $ 10 million or up to 45% of their 2019 revenue per eligible business, whichever is less. The money can be used for expenses such as salary costs, rent, utilities, and personal protective equipment.

Operators who lost at least 25% of their income last year are eligible and the law prioritizes those who have suffered the most economic losses – starting with an exclusive period of 14 days for those who have lost it at least 90%.

The Small Business Administration is also tasked with managing a new $ 29 billion subsidy program for struggling restaurants, which was included in the US bailout approved by Congress in March. The agency said it could kick off that application process this month as well, but has yet to set a date.

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