Music venues and movie theaters are about to get $15 billion in aid, but is it enough?
After months of negotiations that seemed close to stalling out at every turn, congressional leaders agreed to a $900 billion stimulus package on Sunday night, with final votes expected today. The deal definitely isn’t enough for millions of jobless and underemployed Americans, but it does comes with a few silver linings. The live music industry, which had been begging for months on end to receive federal aid, will receive a much-needed boost from the Save Our Stages Act.
Long championed by Senator Chuck Schumer, who’s sported a Save Our Stages mask in recent news conferences, the bill provides $15 billion in aid for live music venues, independent movie theaters, and other cultural institutions. “They were the first to close and will be the last to open, so this bill gives them a fighting chance,” Schumer said Sunday night on the Senate floor.
The National Independent Venue Association, which has advocated for venue-targeted relief since the start of the pandemic, also released a statement urging the swift passage of this stimulus bill with Save Our Stages is intact. Here’s Board President Dayna Frank on the proposed stimulus deal:
“We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the COVID-19 Relief Bill. We’re also incredibly grateful that this bill provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which will help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this economic crisis. We urge swift passage of this legislation, which will assist those in the greatest need and ensure the music lives on for generations to come.”
So what will the $15 billion look like for venues? While specifics are scant at this point, if it hews to NIVA's ongoing asks, then eligible venues could receive a grant up to 45% of gross revenue from 2019 or $12 million — whichever is less. These could be applied to expenses through the end of next December. In addition to tax-credit relief, NIVA backed the Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, ensuring that employees with both W-2 and 1099 forms could access unemployment. And perhaps most crucially, Save Our Stages stressed that PPP loans weren't an effective aid strategy for venues, since payroll is far from their most pressing concern while largely shut down.
While federal relief was always going to be the best chance to salvage the live music industry by the time 2021 rolls around, it’s sadly much too late for dozens of shuttered venues across the country. Beloved spaces in some of America’s largest cities had already buckled under the weight of nine months without new revenue, and no certainty that rent relief or direct payments would be coming.
More generous stimulus negotiations were on the table back in October, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi batted away the White House’s $1.6 trillion package. “This isn't half a loaf. What they're offering is the heel of the loaf,” Pelosi said of the plan at the time. Hopefully this half of a heel — with a new round of $600 direct payments and additional $300 per week in federal unemployment assistance — is enough to keep venues and theaters afloat until it’s safe to get back out there together.