Congress has finally reached an agreement on a new Covid-19 relief bill that will include funding for independent music venues that have been closed throughout the pandemic. According to The New York Times, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill Sunday night while the Senate will likely vote Monday, before sending it to President Donald Trump.
While the official language of the bill has yet to be released, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement noting the bill includes “$15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions.”
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Schumer said,
“I’m especially pleased this this bill will provide money for bars and restaurants, and $15 billion in SPA grants for theater operators and small venue operators through the Save Our Stages Act. These venues are so important to my state and so many other states across the country. They are the lifeblood of our communities. They were the first to close and will be the last to open. This bill gives them a fighting chance.”
The agreement marks a major and long-awaited milestone for groups like NIVA and the National Independent Talent Organization, which formed during the pandemic to fight on behalf of venues and other businesses affected by the complete shutdown of live music. Should it pass as expected, it will likely help countless venues stay afloat until shows and touring can resume. But Congress’ inability to pass any kind of legislation sooner forced many beloved spots around the country — like Great Scott in Boston, Boot and Saddle in Philadelphia, the Mothlight in Asheville and the Satellite in Los Angeles, among hundreds of others — to shutter permanently.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has rattled numerous industries, venues have been in a particularly perilous spot because many were not able to take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses contained in the CARES Act, which passed in March. Forgiveness on those loans hinged on businesses spending 75% on payroll, but for shuttered venues, there were few to no employees and thus no payroll to cover. That left venues with no revenue and massive overhead.
The fight to offer targeted funding to venues got a boost in July when Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Save Our Stages Act. That piece of legislation, which was effectively rolled into the new bill, will allow venues to use federal money to cover things like rent, mortgages, utilities, insurance and other expenses.
The exact wording on the congress website is as follows:
This bill authorizes the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on certain live venues.
Specifically, the SBA may make (1) an initial grant of up to $12 million dollars to an eligible operator, promoter, producer, or talent representative; and (2) a supplemental grant that is equal to 50% of the initial grant. An initial grant must be used for costs incurred between March 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020, but a supplemental grant may be used for expenses incurred through June 30, 2021.
Such grants shall be used for specified expenses such as payroll costs, rent, utilities, and personal protective equipment.