Movie Theater Owners Call for Immediate Access to Funds for Shuttered Venues

In December, the Small Business Administration set up a $16.1 billion fund to provide eligible movie theaters, live venue operators and performing arts organizations with grants that could help save their businesses.

Yet almost six months later, many independently owned companies haven’t gotten proper funds. The delay, trade organizations that back these businesses argue, puts small companies at the risk of permanent closure.

On Thursday, the National Association of Theatre Owners, the lobbying group that represents film exhibitors, has joined a chorus of trade organizations — including the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, the League of Historic American Theatres, the National Independent Venue Association, the National Independent Talent Organization, the Performing Arts Managers and Agents Coalition and the Performing Arts Alliance — to push for the Small Business Administration to immediately release all of the shuttered venue operator grant funds.

More than 4,910 small business owners in the first priority period, those with the greatest need, and an additional 10,000 independent businesses that fall into the second and third priority periods, are still waiting for emergency relief funding. As of June 9, the SBA reported it had awarded a total of 90 grants.

Though the program was signed into law in December, it did not begin taking applications until April. According to a statement from the small business-oriented trade organizations, the SBA missed a June 9 deadline to grant funds to operations suffering 90% or more in losses. That, in turn, postpones the allocation of grants to the second tier of businesses suffering 70% or more in losses.

In effect, eligible entities can claim an allotment equal to 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue, with a maximum of $10 million.

“The nationwide recovery of the live arts and entertainment ecosystem depends on the successful delivery of this vital federal relief,” says Lisa Richards Toney, the president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. “As the performing arts venues and organizations that are the fabric of communities across America, we are proud of collective efforts to fight for our survival, and we are rallying to cross the finish line.”

For the movie theater business, 25% of U.S. locations have remained shuttered, despite expanded capacity restrictions, because they cannot afford to reopen.

“The pandemic is easing, capacity restrictions on movie theaters are being lifted, major movies are being widely released, but hundreds of movie theater companies cannot open until they have rehired their employees, paid their vendors and their rent,” said NATO president and CEO John Fithian. “The SBA is actively damaging the companies they were supposed to help. That must end now.”

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