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US venues frustrated after SBA grant portal breaks

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) was forced to close the portal for Shuttered Venue Operating Grants (SVOG) before a single application was received.

Four hours after opening the application process for the highly-anticipated $16.3 billion financial aid, the SBA was forced to close the portal due to insurmountable technical difficulties.

The operators of struggling concert halls in the US, who have waited over a year for targeted financial aid, took to social media to express their frustration at the delay.

Eamon Harkin from New York City-based venue Nowadays tweeted: “It’s been 15 hrs since we’ve had an update. An entire industry is on standby and their responsibilities to their businesses and families are being impacted. Please provide an update on when the process will open again ASAP.”

Prior to the portal opening, the US government watchdog, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), issued a statement questioning the agency’s ability to handle the massive grant program.

“OIG believes that SBA does not have the staff necessary to provide effective oversight over the SVOG program,” the report said. “At this time, SBA has not formalised a plan for staffing this office relative to the volume of applications expected. The agency has also not defined the organisational structure for administering the program.”

The National Independent Talent Organisation (NITO) are more forgiving of the SBA’s technical difficulties but have made a number of recommendations for a smoother, more equitable application process.

“There is a huge pressure to reopen the portal now – political, economic and social”

The first is to create a seven-day business window for rejected submissions to allow applicants the opportunity to correct errors or supplement their application with additional documents.

The second recommendation is that the SBA opens the application process with a 14-day priority window intended for the hardest hit small businesses that suffered a 90% or greater revenue loss.

“While we were all extremely disappointed at the difficulties suffered by all of the folks under the SVOG umbrella, we look forward to a solid and productive reopening once these issues are resolved,” says Frank Riley, NITO President/ High Road Touring.

“There is a huge pressure to reopen the portal now – political, economic and social – but to risk a repeat of what happened 8 April would only compound all of our problems. We need to give the SBA, and the implementation of this very new, and innovative program of assistance to all of the organisations that could benefit from the SVOG, the time to rectify these issues, and then hope for as smooth and productive a roll out as soon as possible.”

The SBA said the decision to close the portal was “not made lightly as we understand the need to ensure critical assistance gets to you as swiftly as possible”.

At the time of writing, the portal remains closed while fix tech issues are fixed. The administration has promised to give advanced warning of reopening so that all eligible applicants will have a fair chance to apply.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, also known as the Save Our Stages Act, is part of a a $1.9 billion American Rescue Package which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on 11 March.

 


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