- A bill moving through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives would allocate $200 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to help the state's live music and performance venues stay open through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Save Our Stages Act, first introduced by Rep. Jake Wheatley last month, has now been referred to the House Commerce Committee.
- The grants would enable venues to cover a variety of expenses including payroll, rent, utilities, mortgage payments, loans and the cost of acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE). In a memo to colleagues, Wheatley said there are 225 independent live music venues in the state, which generated $1.36 billion last year and supported more than 10,000 jobs — of which the vast majority have since been furloughed. Wheatley's memo noted that venues generated $238 million in direct economic impact last year and help other businesses like hotels and restaurants.
- Independent venue operators could be eligible to receive up to $2 million each in grant funding under the legislation. Wheatley did not respond to requests for further comment.
A growing number of states have been using CARES Act funding, which must be spent by the end of the year, to support venues in a bid to help keep them afloat through the pandemic and able to reopen in the future. Oregon and Montana set money aside specifically for live entertainment venues, while Illinois and Delaware have included them as being eligible for funding as a distressed small business.
At the city level, Nashville, TN and Denver are among those to offer grant funding from their CARES Act allocations to help struggling venues in a bid to stave off what could be a devastating shutdown of these small businesses. Initially, the intention of CARES Act funding was to help state and city governments close some of their yawning budget deficits expected amid the pandemic. But as the spread of COVID-19 continues, local leaders have increasingly prioritized propping up struggling sectors.
Live music and entertainment venues have been particularly affected by mandates to close their doors and cancel events indefinitely. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), formed earlier this year to advocate for venues and promoters nationwide, warned that 90% of its 2,900-plus members say they will close in a few months without federal help.
If those venues stay closed for the rest of the year, the association estimates a $9 billion loss in ticket sales alone. And with venues bringing nearly $10 billion in direct economic impact to local communities, NIVA warns of catastrophic consequences.
While the Small Business Administration (SBA) has administered Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to incentivize small businesses to keep workers on their payrolls, that does not help venues that have been forced to furlough staff but still pay operating expenses, said Ron Ozer, an independent venue owner in Delaware and a lobbyist for NIVA.
"A lot of these expenses just keep happening even though almost all their employees are typically furloughed, so something like PPP doesn't really help," Ozer said in an interview.
Federal legislation to save live entertainment venues has also been introduced in the form of a "Save Our Stages Act." U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and John Cornyn, R-TX, introduced the bill in July to provide SBA grants to independent live music operators.
Ozer said that while the group is not confident of progress ahead of Election Day, NIVA hopes to see moves made in the lame-duck session of Congress or in 2021. Before that, Ozer said, local governments must act and advocate for these venues.
"A lot of states are finding ways to put [federal relief] money towards things that fit the agreement that was originally offered to them when the money was delivered. And that would include small businesses that are in particular distress… We're losing venues every day," Ozer said.