SBA makes progress with shuttered live venue aid, but pace 'lagging’

·3-min read

After being closed for well over a year, live entertainment venues across the country are reopening their facilities, scheduling programs and welcoming visitors once again.

However, sought-after federal funding from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help them recover COVID-19 related losses has been slow in coming. But many of those independent venues received good news this week from the SBA, which announced that over 10,000 recipients were notified of their successful applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG).

The SVOG program includes more than $16 billion in grants, a considerable sum. Yet the agency initially found itself swamped with nearly 15,000 applications from a range of cash-strapped venue operators, promoters and producers, according to SBA reporting.

Many live entertainment businesses are hanging on by a thread, hoping that these grants will come through. But the program has been bogged down with technical issues, clerical problems and confusion since it launched in April, delaying the aid further.

These businesses, which have been some of the hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdown, have collectively been awarded more than $7.5 billion of the $16 billion the federal government set aside for the program back in December.

“We are really glad that the SBA reached their milestone of 10,000 awards,” Esther Baruh, director of government relations at the National Association of Theatre Owners, told Yahoo Finance in an interview.

Some business owners who have had their applications approved still have not received their money, and there is still no concrete answer from the SBA on when those funds will arrive.

“The disbursements are lagging by a little over a billion dollars,” Baruh added, explaining that the agency “put $6.3 billion in people's bank accounts and about $1.3 billion still has not arrived in the bank account of the awarded applicants.”

Baruh said while the SBA worked hard to improve the disbursement machinery, “we are really worried about the pacing for the ones who are still not done and through the process.”

She added: “We have members who still cannot reopen because they don't have their funds yet. They're depending on these funds to pay bills.”

'There's nothing left for me'

Pamela and Tom Pickens of Madison, Indiana, enjoy live music as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are eased at blues bar Kingston Mines in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 24, 2021. Picture taken June 24, 2021.   REUTERS/Eileen T. Meslar
Pamela and Tom Pickens of Madison, Indiana, enjoy live music as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are eased at blues bar Kingston Mines in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 24, 2021. Picture taken June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Eileen T. Meslar

The SBA has rendered a decision on 95% of the SVOG applications it has received, with 732 applications under review and 105 yet to begin review as of July 26. More than 2,700 applications have been declined.

One of those denied applications belonged to Jennifer Condron, CEO of BulletProof Productions LLC which operates Bane Haunted House in New York City.

“I was really banking on this money just to get my life back together,”Condron told Yahoo Finance in an interview. “No words. I am completely utterly destroyed because there's nothing left for me.”

Like any approval process involving money, it’s not always clear why an application is denied. The wait — which ultimately culminates in rejection — can trigger lots of anxiety for those on the receiving end.

The SBA is letting applicants appeal grant denials, request award reconsiderations, and seek supplemental funding. That process starts on Aug. 2-16. Entities that received less funding than they anticipated can apply for reconsideration on their grant amount Aug. 4-18.

“Nobody knows why they were declined,” Condron told Yahoo Finace.

“So what we're thinking is we just resubmit everything we submitted the first time, plus a couple of extra things here and there to really drill in their heads this is why we think we qualify,” she added.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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