Federal officials hope for a less turbulent rollout for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

PictureSweetwater Music Hall.

The day that independent live music venues, movie theaters and theatrical and performing arts organizations – those businesses and nonprofits most economically ravaged by the COVID-19 crisis – has finally arrived.

​That’s because the Small Business Administration launched the long-delayed Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program on Monday. The program was included in the $900 billion stimulus passed by Congress in December 2020 (yes, you read that right) as the Save Our Stages Act, which provides $16 billion in dedicated funding for the aforementioned arts organizations.

Organizations are eligible for a grant equal to 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue OR $10 million, whichever is less. For organizations that began operation after January 1, 2019, grants will be for the average monthly gross earned revenue for each full month the organization was in operation during 2019 multiplied by six (6) OR $10 million, whichever is less.

The SVOG program was rumored to be nearing the starting line throughout the first quitter of 2021 via the Small Business Administration. And then its application system malfunctioned and collapsed, leaving thousands of desperate applicants waiting eagerly to submit their paperwork. “And then they waited. And waited,” according to the New York Times.

The program also has an uncertain short-term future. 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 has offered few details on the technical meltdown that demolished its application system for the live-events grant program.

Federal officials hope to have a less turbulent, bug-laden rollout 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.

SBA officials told the Times the restaurant fund is running “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.

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