After a series of protracted negotiations that threatened to derail any financial relief for millions of Americans, Congress passed a new Covid-19 relief bill Monday night that will include funding for independent music venues that have been closed throughout the pandemic. The bill will now move to the White House for President Trump to sign the sweeping bill, paving the way for venue owners to begin applying for financial relief.
On Monday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement noting the bill includes “$15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions.”
“The legislation provides critical help to shuttered businesses by providing a grant equal to 45% of gross revenue from 2019, with a cap of $10 million per entity,” the National Independent Venues Association said in a statement Monday night following the bill’s passage. “This grant funding will ensure recipients can stay afloat until reopening by helping with expenses like payroll and benefits, rent and mortgage, utilities, insurance, PPE, and other ordinary and necessary business expenses.”
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Schumer said, “I’m especially pleased this this bill will provide money for bars and restaurants, and $15 billion in SPA grants for theater operators and small venue operators through the Save Our Stages Act. These venues are so important to my state and so many other states across the country. They are the lifeblood of our communities. They were the first to close and will be the last to open. This bill gives them a fighting chance.”
“We secured the Save Our Stages Act for indie music venues, Broadway, comedy clubs, indie movie theaters, and more,” Schumer wrote on Twitter Sunday night. “These are people’s jobs and livelihoods, and they need this help now. I won’t stop fighting for them.”
Dayna Frank, owner and CEO of First Avenue Productions and NIVA President, praised the agreement in a statement. “We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the Omnibus COVID-19 Relief Bill,” Frank said. “We’re also incredibly grateful that this bill provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which will help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this economic crisis. We urge swift passage of this legislation, which will assist those in the greatest need and ensure the music lives on for generations to come.”
Speaking on the Senate floor Monday, Amy Klobuchar said the bill will help venues cover six months of expenses to make it through what will hopefully be the tail-end of the pandemic. “We’re very hopeful that once the summer comes that we’re going to see more and more openings because of the vaccines because of what I hope will be with the new administration and increased emphasis on testing,” she said. “And that we’ll see more and more venues be able to open. The grants can be used to cover all the major costs the venues have to pay to stay in business including rent and mortgage utilities, employee wages, key benefits, maintenance costs, state and local taxes, payments to contractors, purchases of protective equipment.”
The agreement marks a major and long-awaited milestone for groups like NIVA and the National Independent Talent Organization, which formed during the pandemic to fight on behalf of venues and other businesses affected by the complete shutdown of live music. Should it pass as expected, it will likely help countless venues stay afloat until shows and touring can resume. But Congress’ inability to pass any kind of legislation sooner forced many beloved spots around the country — like Great Scott in Boston, Boot and Saddle in Philadelphia, the Mothlight in Asheville and the Satellite in Los Angeles, among hundreds of others — to shutter permanently.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has rattled numerous industries, venues have been in a particularly perilous spot because many were not able to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses contained in the CARES Act, which passed in March. Forgiveness on those loans hinged on businesses spending 75% on payroll, but for shuttered venues, there were few to no employees and thus no payroll to cover. That left venues with no revenue and massive overhead.
The fight to offer targeted funding to venues got a boost in July when Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Save Our Stages Act. That piece of legislation, which was effectively rolled into the new bill, will allow venues to use federal money to cover things like rent, mortgages, utilities, insurance and other expenses.