A growing number of live entertainment businesses have received good news from the Small Business Administration (SBA). As of today (July 27), more than 10,000 independent venues, promoters, talent representatives and more have been notified of their successful applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG). The companies, which were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, have collectively been awarded more than $7.5 billion of the $16 billion the federal government set aside for the program back in December.
The program, the first-of-its-kind grant initiative for the SBA, has faced a number of issues since attempting to open applications on April 8, including failed portal launches, delays and technical issues.
“That’s a major milestone for us to mark the real turnaround of this program,” the SBA’s senior advisor for COVID programs Deidra Henry-Spires tells Billboard. “We’ve recovered our momentum with this program. We can keep moving. We won’t rest until it’s all done.”
The 10,000 milestone means nearly 65% of applicants have been notified of an impending award and, according to SBA data, more than $6 billion in grants have hit bank accounts. As of July 26, more than 15,400 applications had been submitted for the grant program, requesting a total of $12 billion.
“When I began my tenure at the SBA, this first-of-its-kind SVOG program was not where I wanted it to be,” SBA administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman said in a statement. “I’m proud that, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our talented team, we have turned the ship around. America’s small businesses can rest assured that the SBA will continue to work around the clock to provide the relief that is needed to revitalize local economies and build back better from the pandemic and economic crisis.”
In approximately seven weeks, the SBA has gone from awarding just over 100 grants on June 10 to more than 10,000 to date. In mid-June, the SVOG program within the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance brought on the team that previously spearheaded a quick rollout of out the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which opened in May. Henry-Spires tells Billboard that Casillas Guzman made it a priority to assist the smallest of businesses, with more than two-thirds (about 6,400) of awards going to companies with 10 or fewer employees.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – NY) – who has been a strong advocate for the grant program – says he’s “so happy that the live entertainment and other cultural arts venues in New York and across the country are receiving this desperately needed financial aid,” adding, “these cultural institutions are the true heart and soul of New York, and I cannot wait to watch, listen and laugh as they bounce back bigger and better than ever, and I’ll keep working with the SBA to get all of the program’s assistance out the door as soon as possible to help all eligible venues recover.”
Of the more than 15,000 total applications submitted, another roughly 1,260 applications have been notified of the need for technical corrections and more than 2,500 applications have been declined. Just under 600 applications are left to be “decisioned” (meaning the SBA hasn’t yet come to a decision on eligibility), which Henry-Spires believes will be reviewed by next week. Beginning Aug. 2, Henry-Spires says the SBA will begin reconsidering grant amounts for those who were not given the full amount they believe they are entitled to. On Aug. 4, the SBA will begin accepting appeals from entities who believe they were wrongly declined for an award.
“These two programs (reconsideration and appeals) weren’t imagined in the statute,” says Henry-Spires, who adds that they were created due to urging from stakeholders. It’s a “second opportunity to plead your case with strong financial documentation that makes a good case for the American taxpayer, because we take our duty to protecting their funds incredibly, incredibly, seriously.”
For those entities appealing declines, Henry-Spires says a different review team will look over the application again and give an “opportunity under a new set of eyes to see if we made a mistake, if something else should have been done or you should have received an award.”
Following appeals and reconsiderations, the SBA will open the process for accessing supplemental grants. Applicants who were approved for grants in the first two tiers — those who lost 70% or more of their revenue in 2020 — will not need to resubmit an application to receive additional funding. As of today, $12 billion of the more than $16 billion grant funds had been requested by initial applicants, which would leave at least $4 billion in supplemental grants for entertainment businesses. The SBA has informed stakeholders that it intends to reach out to those approved for the grant in the first and second tiers — those who lost 90% or more or 70% or more of their revenue in 2020, respectively — regarding supplemental grants of half the amount of their initial grant.