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As entertainment venues continue to open up while COVID-19 restrictions ease, a group of movie theater and live venue operators are calling on the Small Business Administration to hurry up in dispensing COVID relief grants.
On Thursday a coalition of entertainment groups — including the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP), the League of Historic American Theatres, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), National Independent Talent Organization (NITO), Performing Arts Managers and Agents Coalition (PAMAC), and the Performing Arts Alliance — issued a press release calling on the federal agency to “immediately fully fund all Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) eligible entities and to immediately resolve interagency issues that have proven a barrier to funding for SVOG applicants, which are suffering deeply.” (The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to SBA for comment.)
According to the groups, the SBA has now fallen behind its June 9 deadline for funding businesses that had first priority to receive the grant: those that lost 90 percent of their gross revenue between April and December 2020 due to the pandemic. So far, the groups say, the SBA has only announced 90 grants awarded, while the groups say that 4,910 small business owners are eligible for the first round.
In a statement, the SBA said that the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program has so far awarded almost $128 million and has hundreds of reviewers working “around the clock” to process applications. “In large part because of statutory requirements – created in the last Administration – the applications require extensive scrutiny,” the administration said, adding that applicants included “anywhere from 30 to 100 documents” in applications that require review.
The agency added, “The SBA realizes the critical need to increase processing speed for Shuttered Venues applicants – the current pace of awards is not reflective of the high standards that we strive to meet. We are committed to doing everything we can to improve funding speed, get Americans the relief they desperately need and open our venues again.”
This delay, the entertainment coalition says, has jeopardized the future of businesses the grants aimed to protect. NATO president and CEO John Fithian said in a statement, “The pandemic is easing, capacity restrictions on movie theaters are being lifted, major movies are being widely released, but hundreds of movie theater companies cannot open until they have rehired their employees, paid their vendors and their rent.” He added, “The SBA is actively damaging the companies they were supposed to help. That must end now.”
League of Historic American Theatres president and CEO Ken Stein added, “We remain dismayed that the life raft given to our industry by Congress back in December has yet to be implemented. … The funds are there. They have been there for six months. They need to be disbursed.”
The second round of SVOG grants is set to fund businesses that experienced a 70 percent dip in gross revenues between April and December 2020, while the third priority level is dedicated to businesses that suffered a 25 percent loss or greater. The coalition estimates 10,000 business owners will qualify for the second and third rounds.
As cinemas reopen nationwide, they are focusing on unique and premium experiences to lure viewers back to the theater. From June 22-27, movie theaters nationwide are set to celebrate “Cinema Week,” which will showcase exclusive content, welcome filmmakers and talent, and sell merchandise. “It’s time to get off the couch,” Brandon Jones, executive chairman of the Founding Committee of Exhibitor and Studio Partners for Cinema Week told THR when the week was announced in April.
June 14, 2:06 p.m. Updated with the SBA’s statement.
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