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US Congress agrees COVID-19 Relief Bill with $15bn for venues

US Congress has finally agreed to terms on a $900bn (£681bn/€741bn) COVID-19 Relief Bill, with around $15bn going to independent music venues, theatres and cultural institutions that have been almost entirely shuttered since March.

An ‘Emergency Coronavirus Relief & Omnibus Agreement’ statement released by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, did not detail how funding for the Save Our Stages Act would be distributed.

The initiative was first proposed by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and subsequently introduced in July as a bi-partisan bill in the Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Cornyn and in the House of Representatives by Peter Welch and Roger Williams.

Dayna Frank, owner and chief executive of First Avenue Productions and board president of NIVA, which has been at the forefront of political advocacy for venues during the pandemic and economic crisis, said: “We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the COVID-19 Relief Bill.

“We’re also incredibly grateful that this bill provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which will help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this economic crisis. We urge swift passage of this legislation, which will assist those in the greatest need and ensure the music lives on for generations to come.”

The relief bill marks the first significant federal aid package during the pandemic and global crisis since April. While the bill is less than half the $2.2tn stimulus law enacted in March, the New York Times noted that it is still “one of the largest relief packages in modern history.”

According to Pelosi’s memo, that support for small business includes over $284bn for first and second forgivable PPP loans, expanded PPP eligibility for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters, key modifications to PPP to serve the smallest businesses and struggling non-profits and better assist independent restaurants. The agreement also includes $20bn for targeted EIDL Grants, which are critical to many smaller businesses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “As the American people continue battling the coronavirus this holiday season, they will not be on their own. Congress has just reached an agreement. We will pass another rescue package ASAP. More help is on the way.”

Senator Chuck Schumer, a cosponsor of Save Our Stages, said: “I am especially pleased that this bill will provide money for bars and restaurants, and $15bn in SBA grants for theatre operators and small venue owners through the Save Our Stages Act.

“These venues are so important to my state and many states across the country —they are the lifeblood of our communities. They were first to close, and will be the last to open. The bill gives them a fighting chance.”

Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Ken Hammond