Touring

Indie Venues Devastated After Trump Kills Stimulus Talks: 'This Is Real. We Need Help'

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The United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Congress' most recent aid package included up to $10 billion for concert halls forced to close due to the pandemic. Now their futures look grim.

President Donald Trump has ordered Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to end talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi over a package of COVID-19 relief bills that included more than $10 billion in aid for independent music venues, agencies and music companies indefinitely shut down by the global pandemic. Unless Trump changes his mind soon, it's unlikely that a relief package will be passed before the election.

Trump, who was released from the Walter Reed Medical Center Monday night after being diagnosed with COVID-19 made the announcement via Twitter, writing that he was instructing Mnuchin to end talks over the $2.4 trillion Heroes Act package until after the election.

"It's devastatingly horrible news," says Stephen Chilton with the Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. "More venues are going to close -- I think the reason we haven't seen even more venues shut down is because everyone is holding out hope that Save Our Stages passes. I'm not sure how much longer people can hold on -- there's rent, there's debt obligations and there's a lot of costs. It's already been six months with zero revenue."

The news came as a major disappointment for two major independent arts associations who were encouraged last week when Pelosi announced that the Save Our Stages Act would be included in the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act. Save Our Stages would have provided up to $18 million to any independent music venue unable to hold concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have been sounding the alarm since April that if our members don’t get emergency assistance, they will go under forever -- and it’s happening,” says Audrey Fix Schaefer, director of communications for the National Independent Venue Association. For months the group has been warning that without federal assistance, more than 90% of its 2,500 members would go out of business.

“This is real. We need help. We urge Congress and the White House to continue negotiations and reach a deal quickly or there will be a mass collapse of this industry," Fix Schaefer says. "The Save Our Stages Act has already passed the House and has strong bipartisan support with more than 160 Congresspeople cosponsoring because they know independent venues can be part of our country’s economic renewal once it’s safe to welcome people back -- if our venues can survive this pandemic. We're also hoping for the sake of our furloughed employees that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be extended, as people are suffering through no fault of their own."

A representative from the National Independent Talent Organization also released a statement urging Congress and Trump to quickly pass some type of assistance for those impacted by COVID-19.

“We continue to advocate for the needs of our members and the independent live music business community and hope that our government does not abandon us," the statement read.

The Heroes Act had passed the House of Representatives earlier this week and many venue managers were hopeful that the Save Our States Act would be included in a final aid package signed by the President.

Dozens of venues have already closed because of the pandemic, including the U Street Music Hall in Washington D.C., which announced Monday it was shutting its doors after 10 years of operation.

"When we closed our doors to the public this past March, just days before we were to celebrate our club’s 10-year anniversary, none of us could have imagined at the time that we would still be closed nearly seven months later with no return date in sight because of an unrelenting disease called COVID-19,” the venue said in a statement on Twitter. “But due to the pandemic, mounting operational costs that never paused even while we were closed, and no clear timeline for when clubs like ours can safely reopen, we had no choice recently but to make this heartbreaking decision.”

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