The $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday will provide much-needed aid to live entertainment venues that are still struggling amid the ongoing pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan will allocate an additional $1.25 billion to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program and, crucially, will allow venue owners to also apply for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which will be distributed more quickly. This ability to apply for both a loan and a grant was originally prohibited under the grant program.
Eligible applicants will now be able to apply for both kinds of aid, and the amount they are eligible to receive can be split among the different forms. So, any money distributed as a PPP loan would be deducted from the amount they would be eligible to receive under the grant program.
"This change can save countless venues from bankruptcy," the president of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), Dayna Frank, said in a statement Thursday.
The association's membership includes more than 3,000 independently owned live entertainment venues as well as promoters across all 50 states. It says its members have been unable to generate revenue but continue to have to pay mortgages or rent as well as loans, taxes and insurance costs. Members aren't able to offer employees any type of work and there's no immediate end in sight.
"To say our members are frantic and anxious is an understatement," Frank said. "The eviction notices have been coming at an even faster pace as time goes by without this emergency relief."
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program was created in December when the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act was signed into law. Through that program, $15 billion in grants was made available to closed venues and other businesses such as movie theaters and museums. However, the program, which will be overseen by the Small Business Administration, has yet to officially launch.
That meant that venue owners continued to be in a bind and were forced to decide between taking the more restrictive PPP loan or waiting on a grant that doesn't yet have an official rollout timeline. Without federal funding, 90 percent of independent venues said they would have to close permanently, according to a survey of NIVA members.
"Many venues have gone under while waiting to access this [grant] program," NIVA said in the statement, adding that the PPP money can help eligible independent venues and promoters hold on until the grants are distributed.
NIVA's advocacy chair, Adam Hartke, said he hopes Congress will now extend the deadline that businesses have to apply for PPP funding, which is currently set to close March 31.
In order to help members as they continued to struggle, NIVA created an emergency relief fund that relied on donations to dispense short-term aid. The fund raised over $3 million and helped more than 150 of the group's most at-risk venues and promoters, but NIVA claims it would need another $11 million to respond to the demand for relief.
But these venues aren't in the clear yet. Even as states move forward with tiered reopening plans, most live entertainment venues will still remain closed for months as they're slotted in the last stages of reopening. Plus, given that entertainment tours are routed on a national structure, NIVA projects that the industry won't be able to recover until the entire U.S. is reopened at 100 percent capacity.