After weeks of delays, fits and starts, on April 26 the federal Small Business Administration is reopening applications for a $16 billion pot of money meant to help theaters, museums, venues and other live event spaces hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SBA began accepting applications for the program, known as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, on April 8, but technical glitches forced the federal agency to stop accepting applications.
Applications were slated to go live April 24, but that was pushed back two days to Monday at noon.
“It is our top priority to deliver on the promise and commitment to provide economic lifelines to these hardest-hit venues ASAP,” the agency said late Friday evening. “Yet, we understand the challenges a weekend opening would bring, and to ensure the greatest number of businesses can apply for these funds, we decided to reschedule. We remain committed to delivering economic aid to this hard-hit sector quickly and efficiently.”
According to a report from the New York Times, the decision to open applications on a Saturday drew the ire of Orthodox Jewish business owners, who could not use electronics on that day in observance of the Sabbath.
The money for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. Like many forms of COVID-19 business relief, the funds could be quickly depleted.
“Simply put, this is emergency relief that can’t come too soon,” reads an April 23 statement from Audrey Fix Schaefer, who heads the National Independent Venue Association, an organization representing many venues that have been affected by pandemic closures. “Every single day that passes small businesses are receiving eviction notices, all the while $16 billion has been waiting for them. This is a lifeline for thousands of independent venues and promoters in big towns and in small communities across the nation.”
Establishments – like museums, concert venues and performing arts centers – have had to close their doors entirely. They depend on ticket sales and large turnouts to generate a profit, but a months-long stay-at-home order and virtual state of lockdown, followed by limits on non-essential retail and indoor dining further slammed arts, culture and tourism, causing those profits to crater.
A $15 million pot of money for arts, theater and culture organizations is being overseen by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, to be given out after the SVOG runs its course.
“We are holding on launching this program to ensure we do not confuse the market,” said Jake McNichol, a spokesperson for the NJEDA. “We anticipate an early summer launch.”
Meanwhile, a bill moving through the state Legislature calls for the entire pot of yearly hotel and motel tax revenue to go to arts, culture and tourism, ending a practice by governors on both sides of the aisle of raiding the money to plug holes elsewhere in the budget.
On average the fees levied on hotel and motel transactions net the state upward of $100 million a year. With money siphoned off to go toward unrelated expenses, arts and culture typically received roughly $20 million each year.l