U.S. Representative Val Demings joined bipartisan colleagues to send a letter to Administrator Isabel Guzman of the Small Business Administration urging immediate action to stabilize and improve the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, which provides emergency assistance grants to venues that were unable to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rollout of the SVOG program has been plagued by technical challenges and persistent delays. Many have complained and if challenges are not overcome soon, the help may not save those intended to benefit. Since launching the program in April, the SBA has approved roughly 400 grants as of June 14th – despite receiving more than 14,000 applications.
Congressional members request “the disbursement of funds be expedited immediately.” The letter requests a detailed explanation of ongoing issues with the program and demanded the SBA expedite the release of relief funding to struggling venues across the country.
“The slow pace is becoming increasingly untenable for the small businesses in our districts. Their banks have threatened to call in the full amount of small business loans, they do not have the funds to pay their landlords full rent, and they cannot retain staff,” wrote the Members. “We are hearing from venue operators who are days away from closing their doors if these funds are not sent soon. These small businesses not only provide good jobs and contribute economically to our local communities, they contribute to the spirit and local culture as well. We must act now.”
“Our members are still at grave risk of going under while $16 billion waits for them,” said National Independent Venue Association Executive Director Rev. Moose. “Emergency relief requires urgency. It has been 6 months since the law passed and 45 days since our members submitted applications, so we’re truly grateful that our Congressional champions are pressing the SBA for action now to save our stages. Our small businesses, employees, and communities depend in it.”
The program, which is administered by the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance, was originally created as part of the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act last December. The program includes over $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues and also received additional funding from the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year. Eligible applicants may qualify for grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, with the maximum amount available for a single grant award of $10 million.
On April 8th, the program’s portal crashed, halting applications for nearly three weeks. Even after relaunching the application portal, there have been significant delays in the processing of applicants and the awarding of funds. According to the Office of Disaster Assistance, as of June 14, the SBA has only approved 411 grants out of the over 14,000 applications submitted, and nearly half of the applications have not yet reached the review stage.
You can find the full text of the letter here.