Thursday, April 22, 2021

Coronavirus Update 4-22-2021: The SBA has one pandemic job, and it failed @nivassoc #saveourstages

On April 8, the Small Business Association opened its Covid relief program for concert halls and other performing arts venues. Or at least it was supposed to.

This $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program—part of the $900 billion rescue package Congress approved nearly four months ago—is supposed to offer grants equal to 45% of a venue's gross earned revenue up to $10 million per business. The SBA had to immediately close its SVOG portal when crashed from the volume of applications. As of last Friday, the SBA said that it was still working to test the portal's functionality and that it was hoping to reopen it by the end of this week.

This failure is completely and utterly unacceptable. 

The Wall Street Journal quotes Stephen Tyler, a managing partner at Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City, "Every day, every hour that ticks by is one day closer to death, and that is the case for many venues across the country." Adds Tyler, "If this goes on long enough, it is absolutely realistic that this could crush this whole segment of the industry. Candidly, we're right at the end."

This bungled launch doesn't bode well for another relief program the SBA is ready to launch, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which will provide $28.6 billion in funding to restaurants, bars, and other similar businesses that lost revenue related to the pandemic. The SBA promises that the RRF will not suffer the same launch problems at the SVOG program, but the SBA doesn't exactly have the best track record with its Covid relief programs. 

The SBA has one pandemic job—get businesses relief funds that Congress has allocated. It's failed miserably. From the PPP loans to the SVOG program, the SBA has found ways to bollocks up its vital function for American businesses that are literally dying on the Covid vine. Restaurants and bars, how are you feeling about the impending launch of the RRF? If I were you, I'd be nervous as heck.

I'm going to put this as nicely as I possibly can. Come on, SBA, get your s*!t together! Small businesses are counting on the funding Congress promised them to survive. The WSJ quotes Chris Bauman, president of Zenith Music Group and a founding member of the National Independent Venue Association, the lobbying group that formed quickly after Covid closed venues last March. Bauman was a tad more tactful than me in his critique of the SBA: "We feel they have our best interest in mind, but we need [the SVOG program] to open because we're all so really, really hungry. We're really desperate for these funds." 

They most certainly are, and if the SBA can't do its job to get them the funds that Congress has promised, then Congress should step in and fix this mess ASAP. It's literally an issue of life and death for thousands upon thousands of businesses.

* Photo by Filip Andrejevic on Unsplash