Shuttered Venue Operator Grant awards have started to roll out to live entertainment businesses struggling amid coronavirus restrictions, according to Small Business Administration administrator Isabella Guzman, who testified before the House Small Business Committee on Wednesday (May 26).
Marking her first 100 days in the role, Guzman said the SBA is “continuing” to roll out awards for the Priority 1 group of SVOG recipients who lost lost 90% or more of their revenue from April to December 2020. After Congress and then-President Trump approved $15 billion for the SVOG program in December, payouts have been delayed as the SBA first worked months to build the infrastructure to receive applications and award payments and then a launch on April 8 failed and was postponed until April 26. Since then, venues were waiting until this week to start receiving funds. On May 24, the SBA told Billboard Priority 1 venues would receive their grants by the end of the month.
“We started awarding our SVOG funds this week and we hope to continue to help our nations venues hold on until they can bring back the performances and experiences that are the lifeblood of the American culture,” said Guzman in her opening statement to the committee.
A representative for the SBA confirmed that the administration has begun sending notices of awards to approved applicants of the SVOG program as of Wednesday. The federal government’s grant process includes sending a Notice of Award to recipients who will then need to accept the grant. By signing the grant agreement, those entities can receive funds and are obligated to carry out the full terms and conditions of the grant.
“We have hundreds of SBA staff working around the clock to continue processing, approving, and disbursing funds as quickly as possible to get our live entertainment venues back on track,” the SBA representative tells Billboard.
According to Guzman, the SBA has received more than 13,000 applications for the grant totaling approximately $11 billion in requested funds. Those 13,000 applicants compile all three priority groups: Priority 1, who lost 90% or more of revenue in 2020; Priority 2, who lost 70% or more; and Priority 3, who lost 25% or more. With only $11 billion in requested funds, that leaves roughly $4 billion for supplemental grants for independent venues, promoters, talent agencies and other cultural institutions.
“For the Shuttered Venue program, it is over $11 billion [in requested funds]. It looks like applications are still coming in,” said Guzman. “It looks like there will be enough funding for that in addition to supplemental [funds].”
As of publication, the National Independent Venue Association says none of its members have received funds from the SBA.
“We heard Administrator Guzman testify that SVOG awards started going out this week, and look forward to independent venues and promoters hearing directly about awards from the SBA,” says NIVA board member Audrey Fix Schaefer. “The emergency relief can’t come soon enough and we’ll be incredibly grateful when it starts flowing.”
Over the past five months since Trump signed the SVOG program into law, concert venues have remained largely unopened and have continued to struggle while awaiting government support. During the hearing, Guzman blamed the delay on the “complex statute” the SBA was tasked with implementing.
“The program had lots of controls for eligibility requirements. There were so many types of entities that were eligible with very unique requirements under each,” Guzman said. “While the program has been delayed, I feel confident that we’ll continue to start to roll out these funds as we have been doing this week. We appreciate the patience from the industry. Obviously, they don’t have time to wait. Their rent is due and other expenses are critical for them.”
According to committee chairwoman Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), “The [SBA] administered more aid during the COVID crisis that it had for all the other disasters combined during its 67-year history.” The chairwoman acknowledged that this amount of responsibility also resulted in issues for the administration and added that it was “overwhelmed” at times.