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Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates

Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates
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The online portal to apply for the federal government's grant program for live venues, which have struggled to survive shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crashed when it launched last week and has not yet reopened. 

The Small Business Administration (SBA) officially opened the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal last Thursday at 12 p.m., and it has been temporarily suspended since 4:15 p.m. that day.

Businesses that had to close their doors over a year ago, and largely haven’t reopened yet, were eligible to apply for the program, including live venues, live performing arts organizations, museums and movie theaters. Live venue promoters, theatrical producers and talent representatives were also eligible.

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The SBA does not have an update on reopening the application portal. For the roughly four hours that the portal was open, SBA did not accept any applications or distribute any funding.

“We don’t have an exact date of the reopening at this time. We will continue share updates regularly and give applicants advance notice so they can be best prepared for when the application portal reopens,” an SBA spokesperson told The Hill.

The grant program was appropriated over $16.2 billion for grants from the Save our Stages Act, which was signed into law in December 2020, and the American Rescue Plan.

The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which advocated for this program, stressed that the situation is getting worse by the day.

“We don’t know how much longer we’re going to have to find a way to tread water and we’ve been treading it for 13 months,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, a NIVA board member.

Many venue operators who attempted to apply for the program when it opened were unable to get into the system, while others repeatedly were unable to complete their applications, Schaefer said. 

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“People couldn’t upload their files that were being asked for. It was 4 1/2 hours of torture, honestly. This is people’s work lives, their home lives, everything has been waiting for this moment,” she said. 

She added that members of NIVA, who own small independent businesses, have tried to stay afloat by taking out second mortgages and draining their 401Ks and their children’s college funds. 

“It’s been five days since the failed launch of this and we still have no idea when the SBA’s going to open up the program again,” she said.

Popular Washington, D.C.-area venues including the 9:30 Club, The Anthem and Merriweather Post Pavilion all tried to apply for grants last week and couldn’t.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (R-Texas), a co-sponsor of the Save Our Stages Act, said he is monitoring the situation at SBA.

“Our office continues to communicate with the SBA about implementation of the Save Our Stages Act. Sen. Cornyn wants this grant program to re-open for applications as soon as possible,” a Cornyn aide told The Hill.

Venues would be able to use these grants for payroll costs, rent payments, utility payments, mortgage payments, debt payments and work protection expenditures, among other expenses.

Venues that qualify for the SBA program would receive grants equal to 45 percent of their gross earned revenue, and the maximum amount available for a single grant is $10 million. The program has also reserved $2 billion in funds for venues with up to 50 full-time employees.

It was set to prioritize entities that suffered a 90 percent or greater loss during the pandemic for the first two weeks of the program, and then those that suffered a 70 percent or greater loss for the next two weeks, before opening to more venues.