More than a year into the pandemic and almost four months after Congress authorized $16 billion in federal aid, theater owners are still unable to access a penny from the vital grant program that was meant to keep them afloat.
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program was supposed to open earlier this month, but it was abruptly halted by the Small Business Administration after technical difficulties arose with its online portal. The program, which authorizes grants of up to $10 million to live event spaces—including Broadway theaters, cinemas, museums, and music venues—has yet to accept a single application.
Eleven days after glitches derailed the rollout, theater owners say they’re at the end of their ropes.
“At this point the delay is devastating, as the small businesses that Congress intended to save are going under as they wait for the emergency relief,” Audrey Fix Schaefer, board member for the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), told Fast Company in an email. “More businesses are going to have to call it quits because they cannot hold out any longer, all the while $16 billion is waiting to save them.”
NIVA, a coalition of more than 3,000 venues, was formed last year only a few weeks after COVID-19 sparked theater shutdowns across the country. Through the Save Our Stages campaign, the group lobbied lawmakers for federal aid directed specifically at the live-events industry and ultimately found bipartisan support. The SVOG program was authorized with the December stimulus package.
But the money is not doing anyone any good if no one can apply to access it. In a series of tweets last week, the SBA said it was continuing to test the applications portal and that it hoped to have it up and running by the end of next week.
Fix Schaefer said rough guesses are not enough. For far too many venues, each day that goes by is another day closer to permanent closure. “The SBA has provided no timeline or estimate of when the portal will reopen and when the desperately needed lifeline of grants will flow to save our stages,” she said. “We’re suffering in limbo.”
We’ve reached out to the SBA for further comment and will update this post if we hear back.
The post ‘We’re suffering in limbo’: Theater owners are getting more desperate as SBA grant portal remains closed appeared first on Fast Company.