Even as a lucky few venues around the country have been allowed to reopen their doors, many have remained shuttered for going on 13 months. These small business owners in all 50 states were delivered promising news on December 27th as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (formerly known as the Save Our Stages Act) was signed into law. Fast forward 115 days and venue owners are still unable to access the $16 billion earmarked for their financial survival.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of 164 members of both Houses of Congress sent a letter to Small Business Administration head Isabella Guzman asking her to act with a sense of urgency in opening up applications for the desperately-needed SVOG funds. An initial application for the grants went live on April 8th but immediately crashed due to bumper-to-bumper web traffic.
On Friday, after a week of uproar from struggling entrepreneurs across the country, the SBA said that it hopes—not promises—the site will be live by the end of this week. “Over the next few days, our tech team and vendors will remain focused on testing the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal,” the SBA tweeted on Friday. “We are aiming to reopen the portal by the end of [this] week.”
In their letter, the bipartisan coalition stressed the urgency surrounding the SVOG grant applications for countless venues. “With each passing day, more independent businesses are forced to shutter permanently or file for bankruptcy,” the letter reads. “Landlords and banks are no longer permitting deferrals and are pressing for immediate payment of past due accounts; businesses are receiving eviction notices; mom-and-pop businesses are being forced to sell. The Administration’s announcement is critical to these businesses as they work to meet existing debt obligations during these unprecedented times.”
In addition to stressing the urgency of the SVOG applications, members of Congress also requested that the SBA commit to a transparent communicative relationship with applicants. While the website will hopefully be fixed by the end of this week, thousands of business owners across the country will still require assistance in wading through the process, with each waiting moment racking up more and more debt.
“We also respectfully request you continue to outreach to potential applicants and finalize guidance that will inform applicants of the precise requirements for eligibility and grant amount,” the letter continues. “We continue to urge SBA to implement a technical corrections process so reviewers may seek additional information if a submission is rejected due to an obvious technical error. This is consistent with the review opportunity provided under other federal grant programs and would ensure that eligible applications are not excluded due to an inadvertent failure to comply with a technical requirement of the application process.”
As the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) noted in a statement about the letter, “Our members are anxiously awaiting, as they’ve been without revenue but still saddled with all of their overhead for the last 13 months. Without SVOG, there will be a mass collapse of our industry. Our Congressional champions from both sides of the aisle understand that we will be part of the economic renewal of our communities across America when this emergency relief arrives.”
Click here to read the full letter signed by 164 members of Congress urging the SBA to reopen SVOG applications.