As the Small Business Administration slowly begins to roll out funding for its long anticipated Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, it released its first public report on the grant’s status Wednesday, revealing new figures about the rollout status while also underscoring the slow trickle toward approvals applicants have faced.
Of the 13,619 qualifying venues, promoters and other live entertainment businesses that applied for the SVOG, just 31, or about 0.2 percent, have had their applications approved, the SBA confirmed. Another 2,945 applications are currently in review, while 10,641 are awaiting their review. On average, the agency announced they have awarded $1.1 million per venue. Approved grants doesn’t necessarily mean applicants get cash-in-hand. Upon approval of their grant, an applicant must file more documents regarding the use of their grants before receiving payment.
Of the 31 accepted grant recipients, 15 are venues or promoters, six are live performing arts operators, eight are movie theaters, one is a talent agency and the last is a theater producer. Museum operators — the final qualifying group in the grant — have yet to receive payments.
The SVOG determines whether or not thousands of venues across the country will survive the pandemic or not. Going on nearly 18 months with virtually no revenue, the venues’ owners are cash-strapped and heavily in debt and can’t start their reopening process without grants. For many, SVOG’s passing was the key factor in deciding to keep their businesses alive rather than cut their losses and close down.
The grant passed into law at the end of 2020 as part of the larger Covid relief bill following months of advocacy from the National Independent Venue Association. The rollout of the funding however has been painfully slow. While legislators passed the SVOG into law in December, the grant’s application portal didn’t open until the beginning of April, then quickly closed due to technical difficulties and reopened at the end of the month. Many venues across the country have grown more anxious and distrustful of the SBA’s timelines as they’ve waited for the promised grants and taken on five more months of debt.
“How do you do capital planning and plan for your future when the people who are actually going to be providing you the revenue have had their lips sewn shut like a bad horror movie?” Gary Witt, owner of Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater Group, told Rolling Stone in May. “This is like a Saw movie. Pretty soon each of us is going to cut our arm off to be able to find out what the SBA is saying.”
Applicants have also had several confusing miscommunications with the SBA. Most recently, several applicants were told this week that they were on the SBA’s do-not-pay list because the venue owner was mislabeled as deceased. Those who got the email likely had an Employee Identification Number that matched the social security number of a deceased person, and the SBA said those applicants will get an email telling them they don’t need to take any further action and the issue will be marked as resolved on their application page in the next couple days. This wasn’t the first confusion however. Before yesterday, other applicants erroneously received messages last week saying they hadn’t submitted their applications, only to be told later it was a glitch.
The SBA hasn’t supplied an exact timeline for when applicants can expect to receive payments, but the approval process began last week and the administration said then it would be increasing its rollout pace over the coming days.
“We’re anxiously awaiting the ramp up of award notices as our members are depending on this emergency relief for their companies to reopen,” NIVA said in a statement. “These small businesses have exhausted all of their resources. The $16 billion is waiting for them, so the award notices need to be imminent.”