Last December 27th, former President Donald Trump signed into law the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act, which included $15 billion in funding for the Shuttered Venues Operator Grant program. SVOG has been seen as a lifeline for movie theatres and live performance venues whose business was devastated during the COVID-19 pandemic by mandated closures and dramatic limits in allowable capacity. Under the program, an affected venue can receive grants amounting to as much as 45% of total revenues from 2019, a lifeline to help bridge the gap until normal operations can resume as the pandemic lifts.
However, the rollout of the SVOG program by the U.S. Small Business Administration has been excruciatingly slow, with many technical glitches and other stops and starts along the way. As of today, only 31 organizations have received funding under the program out of more than 13,000 applicants. Much of the current delay is due to the SBA’s requirements for due-diligence in order to limit fraud, which has been a chronic concern with the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) offered to general small businesses.
While theatre owners are frustrated at the slow pace, others have recognized the challenges involved in administering this unprecedented program. Steve Schoaps, the owner of the independent Strother Cinema in Seminole, Oklahoma said, “In the Small Business Administration’s defense, this was a task that was thrown at them at the last second, and this was a monumental task, because everyone was trying to get access to this.” As the public health situation improves with the successful rollout of the vaccine and Hollywood is once again releasing major new titles, the SVOG disaster relief funds cannot come soon enough, allowing theatres to pay bills, re-hire staff and re-open to welcome back moviegoers.