The slow pace at which the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is processing applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program is creating a new crisis for thousands of desperate theatre owners. When the $16 billion program was announced last December, beleaguered exhibitors hailed it as a lifeline that would make the difference in allowing them to re-open their theatres and recover from the financial damage the pandemic had wrought. Nearly six months later, the rollout has been plagued by administrative delays and technical errors, with only a handful of thousands of applicants having received funding.
This week a bipartisan group in Congress led by senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Wisconsin) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) – the sponsors of the original legislation – sent a letter to the SBA calling for immediate action to accelerate the process to make funds available to worthy applicants. It should be noted that the SVOG program is an entirely new program that is unlike other programs the SBA has managed in the past, that a very large number of applications were submitted, and extensive documentation must be presented and reviewed to ensure funds are not awarded to organizations that do not qualify under the parameters of the law. On the other hand, most applicants do qualify and many are relying on SVOG funds to meet outstanding financial obligations to landlords and utilities and rehire staff.