UPDATED: It’s not confirmed yet, but after months of delays, Congress announced Sunday that it has finally reached a deal to pass the long-overdue $900 billion stimulus bill to send aid to American citizens and businesses leveled by the pandemic — including the Save Our Stages act to provide around $15 billion in relief to independent music venues, movie theaters and similar cultural institutions that have been almost entirely shuttered since March.
The bill’s final text, which was released Monday afternoon, allows the above businesses and institutions to apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to cover six months of payroll and costs including rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25 percent of their annual revenue to qualify, and those have lost more than 90 percent will be able to apply in the first two weeks after the bill is signed into law, with others in the following two weeks. Grants will be capped at $10 million; publicly traded companies and other large businesses are not eligible. The larger Restart Act is not included in this package and is likely to be addressed next year.
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See the full text of Save Our Stages here:
Final votes are expected early this week, then the bill will go to President Trump, who has done little presidential work since his loss in the November election.
In advance of the final wording on the Stimulus package that is expected to pass this week, Senator Amy Kolbuchar (D-MN.), who introduced the Save Our Stage act in the Senate with her colleague John Cornyn (R-TX.), spoke with Variety about what’s in the bill and what it means for venues across the country. (Note: the bill’s final text had not been released at the time of the interview.)
Senator, the original wording around Save Our Stages said it was seeking $10 billion for concert venues, but last night it said $15 billion for concerts, movie theaters and others?
What, you don’t like my prowess in negating? I got an increase! (laughter) What happened was, we got some friends and partners [added] as part of this bill, and what usually happens [in that case] is the original people get screwed, because you lose money. But we said, “Okay, we agree that movie theaters and museums and zoos need help, but only if we increase the money.”
So will it be approximately $10 billion for music venues and $5 billion for the others?
They’re all mixed together now, but it will be in that neighborhood. And the original coalition agreed to this, so long as the money was added.
Has the final wording come in yet? Can you speak about what’s in the bill?
No, but what we know is: it’s still our original formula of 47% of revenue from the year before that goes out in the form of a grant [to venues]. It still has the requirement to show that you’re a venue, that you applied to the Small Business Association, and in the month when they can apply, over the first two weeks, people can apply who have lost over 90% of their revenue over last year, and in the second two weeks, over 70%.
So it’s all basically one program now, and we’ll just make sure everyone gets taken care of if there’s any delay. For instance, I’m going to call the head of the SBA this afternoon and make make sure they immediately start doing this. After all the experiences people have had with [Paycheck Protection Program], this program is so much simpler and it should make the money go out faster. We also know that even as we see the coronavirus decline over the next few months, as everyone expects, that [venues] will still be some of the last to open, so that’s why this six months of revenue is so important.
There were many reports of businesses getting PPP loans that were perhaps less deserving than others — is the oversight stronger now?
Yes, we’ve learned a lot from the original PPP. Now remember, the venues that are getting this can’t also apply for PPP — they can choose, but I think they’re going to choose the grants that are tailor-made for them.
Do you think there’s a chance that President Trump might refuse to sign the bill and hold it hostage for partisan reasons?
No, no, everyone expects [him to sign]. Secretary Mnuchin was very involved in the negotiations.
Since Save Our Stages will largely be covering expenses from this year, do you expect another stimulus bill next year?
Yes, especially for the state and local governments and others, and Joe Biden has committed to that. Every month that goes by, you learn about who has been hardest hit — people as well as businesses, and we’re going to have the benefit of that hindsight by February.
Why do you think you have been successful with this, in the face of such steep odds?
Well, I think one of the things that was so successful, and you and I talked about this before, is that it is very rare to introduce something in July and it passes intact with more money (laughing incredulously) six months later, and I think part of that is we stuck together as a coalition. We had red and blue states, people from country music to rap, from Pitbull to Lady Gaga, and it made a difference, because sometimes people get caught up in infighting and other things. Cornyn and I stuck together: We had each others’ backs and explained it to members — and the fact that we had 57 co-sponsors in the Senate out of 100 was extraordinary; we had over 200 House members on the bill, and we always made sure that it was bipartisan. So it was not about blue states — it was about our country and the music of our country, from small town to big cities.
Another thing I liked about the way we handled this is it was all positive, we weren’t dissing people who weren’t on the bill, as sometimes happens (laughing). It was a very positive coalition set by the head of the group, Dayna Frank from First Avenue in Minneapolis — she just never gave up on the idea that we could do this, as a small business owner. We’re really excited that we kept this together — when we started, no one thought that the name of our bill was going to be in lights [on marquees], from Broadway to the Fargo Amphitheater, and it made a difference.
And one more thing I learned: When you work with a group of creative people who have been forced out of work, they’re going to produce!
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