Orlando music venues still waiting on federal aid after months of bureaucratic gridlock


JPEGMafia at Will's Pub - a prime example of the magic of events at small venues - PHOTO BY JEN CRAY FOR ORLANDO WEEKLY
  • Photo by Jen Cray for Orlando Weekly
  • JPEGMafia at Will's Pub - a prime example of the magic of events at small venues
It's been nearly two months since applications were first due for lifesaving grants for shuttered music venues and concert halls, and of $16 billion available from the Small Business Association for these venues, only the monetary equivalent of a trickle of water in a desert has been awarded.

This ride has been a very frustrating one for local venue owners, music promoters and performing arts organizations, who have yet to see tangible economic relief from the SBA-administered Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program created by the American Rescue Plan six months ago.

Of nearly 14,000 application submitted by independent venue owners and concert promoters from around the country, only just over 400 have been approved as of this week. (Around half haven't even been looked at yet.) The pace seems a bit lackadaisical for what is intended as emergency relief.

“We remain dismayed that the life raft given to our industry by Congress back in December has yet to be implemented, “ said Ken Stein, President and CEO for the League of Historic American Theatres, in a press statement. “The funds are there. They have been there for six months. They need to be disbursed.”

The SVOG program has been plagued by internal issues from the jump. SBA has acknowledged the delays in processing on their end to stakeholders. And that's not even taking into account the online system crash in early April, which took down the application portal for weeks and left many frustrated applicants to start the complicated application process again from square one.

Congress appears to be listening, at the very least. This week, U.S. Rep Val Demings from Orlando joined a bipartisan group of representatives in sending a letter to the SBA urging quick action in disbursing funds under SVOG.

“We are hearing from venue operators who are days away from closing their doors if these funds are not sent soon. These small businesses not only provide good jobs and contribute economically to our local communities, they contribute to the spirit and local culture as well. We must act now,” read the letter.

Despite a self-imposed June 9 deadline to start rapidly disbursing funds to businesses most grievously impacted by the pandemic and resulting closures, venues and promoters have been left to twist in the wind again, with little in the way of concrete action from SBA.

"We’ve received nothing. The SBA has missed their own deadlines. Businesses have been struggling for 15 months. The funding was passed six months ago. This is inexcusable," a regional Florida promoter told Orlando Weekly on condition of anonymity. "Belated promises to actually do the job they were tasked with six months ago is not a solution to anything."

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