Grant Approval at Standstill for Music Venues

When most people hear the term "small business," they typically think about hair salons, small restaurants, plumbing shops, and other sorts of traditional businesses. However, there are many more business types in this category, including music venues. Yes, a lot of music venues are housed in large stadiums, and other venues owned by corporations, but most are actually owned privately by individuals looking to turn a profit by hosting concerts and other events. This is why the Small Business Administration decided to offer grant money to a few thousand music venues around the United States, who were suffering hardships due to an inability to host concerts over Covid concerns. To date, only 31 of those venues that qualified have received their grants out of 13,000 applicants.

This is not a unique thing to happen. We've heard story after story about people applying for grants and never hearing back, and even qualifying for grants and not receiving money. One of the more egregious examples during the pandemic was when different organizations claimed to offer $10,000 grants to struggling musicians, only to find out that they had installed a race-based criteria on the back-end that no one knew about. But because no one is entitled to this money, one cannot exactly sue them for false advertisement. It just ends up being an example of how corrupt the grant process can sometimes be.

To date, 0.02% of venues that qualified have gotten final approval for their grant money. We're not talking about a few thousand dollars here. The money promised by the Small Business Administration averaged out to about $1.1 million per venue. The issue, as previously stated: It's been over five months and venues are still waiting eagerly for their grant money.

The Small Business Administration assures people that there's nothing shady or underhanded going on. They claim that after the initial review process is complete, a venue then moves on to the next level, where they have to file documents and prove hardship in order to receive the money. So, according to the SBA, it's a very lengthy process. The rebuttal from the venues still waiting is that it's been five months, and only a little over 13,000 venues to apply, so there's no reason it should take that long when they already have the cash in hand to give out.

The grants are available to an array of venues, including museums, talent agencies, performance art theaters, and concert venues. The program, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, claims that it is still going over the details very meticulously so that a successful venue isn't awarded money instead of a venue that could truly use the boost. This makes sense, of course, but five months seems a very long time to review a business's financial documentation.

What's making a lot of owners of these venues so impatient is that this is the money that was signed into law with the first Relief Bill of 2020. Billions of dollars were earmarked and set aside. So, in essence, all the SBA has to do is review the venues to figure out who's qualified and who isn't.

Making matters worse, many venue owners have tried to speak with the SBA, only to get a confusing runaround about delays and accusations of mislabeled paperwork.

What's Taking So Long?

The reason this is taking so long is anyone's guess. On the "worse" side of things, it could be yet another case of fraud, which we've seen a lot of lately. People in charge of handing out grants end up with new houses, new cars, and very rich relatives, while the grants themselves never really make it out. Government is so busy that these things aren't always uncovered. Of course, that's purely speculative. On the "better" side, it could be that the SBA is understaffed and is having trouble sorting through the applications.

After 19 weeks post announcement, the SBA finally stated last week that they are just beginning the process for approval. The issue a lot of finding is that the SBA has failed to give a potential timeline for when venues can expect to hear if the have received the grants or not.

Everyone knows that not every venue is going to qualify. Unfortunately, some venues that need the money will be overlooked. It happens with every round of grants. At this point, all these venue owners really want are some clear and concise answers from the SBA as to the state of the process. To date, they haven't received these answers.

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