The federal government says the two programs, designed to bring financial relief to two of the business sectors most badly damaged by the COVID-19 crisis but long-delayed in launching, are finally on the way from the Small Business Administration.
Several months after it was included in the $900 billion stimulus, the Save Our Stages Act which provides $16 billion “in dedicated funding for live venues, indie movie theaters, and cultural institutions” in the form of “Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG),” is finally nearing the start line, according to the Small Business Administration, after its application system malfunctioned and collapsed.
Likewise for the forthcoming Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion support program for bars, restaurants and food trucks whose sales were devastated by the shutdowns that states imposed in response to the pandemic. The fund was created as part of last month’s $1.9 trillion economic support package and is far less delayed as its SVOG brethren.
As the SVOG program was finally set to start taking applications at the beginning of April, thousands of desperate applicants waited eagerly to submit their paperwork right at noon, when the system was scheduled to open on April 9. “And then they waited. And waited,” according to the New York Times. Weeks later, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program’s portal remains down. No applications were processed. As the New York Times reported last month, the list of eligible recipients is large, and the SBA has never run a major grant program, and the agency SBA has offered few details on the technical meltdown that demolished its application system for the live-events grant program.
SBA officials told the Times the restaurant fund is set to begin “a seven-day test intended to help the agency avoid the kind of technical fiasco that plagued the venue program. The agency has not announced a specific start date for either grant program.
“Help is here,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, the agency’s administrator, said of the restaurant program. “We’re rolling out this program to make sure that these businesses can meet payroll, purchase supplies and get what they need in place to transition to today’s Covid-restricted marketplace.”
Both programs will distribute money on a first-come-first-served basis, subject to some priority rules, and are expected to run out of money quickly. The money in the restaurant fund, in particular, falls far short of its needs, agency officials have acknowledged.
“Everyone should apply on Day 1,” Patrick Kelley, the head of the agency’s Office of Capital Access, told attendees at a webinar last week organized by the Independent Restaurant Coalition, according to the Times. Lawmakers projected at least $120 billion in demand for the restaurant fund, Mr. Kelley said, but provided money for less than a quarter of that amount.
After waiting nearly four months for that program to start, industry businesses can’t hold out much longer, Audrey Fix Schaefer, a spokeswoman for National Independent Venue Association, told the NY Times. “Landlords can’t last forever. Eviction notices are coming. People are saying, ‘We can’t do this anymore,’” she said.
The Paycheck Protection Program, created just weeks after the pandemic took hold, has made $762 billion in forgivable loans to millions of businesses over the last year. It is scheduled to end May 31, but it appears likely to exhaust its funding before that.
The Small Business Administration said it hopes to start taking applications by the end of this week for a $16 billion grant fund for live-event businesses like theaters and music clubs. The program, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, was supposed to begin nearly two weeks ago, but stymieing thousands of desperate businesses that have been waiting months for the promised aid.