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Senators Klobuchar, Cornyn Call on SBA to Speed Up Grants to Shuttered Venues

Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Cornyn, who introduced the bill that became the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, issued a letter to Isabella Guzman, head of the Small Business Administration, urging a speed-up in relief to venues still waiting on much-needed funding.

The SVOG program was included in the Covid-19 stimulus bill, which passed last December, but the program has been plagued by myriad glitches and delays. Over six months later, only some applicants have received funding, while many are still waiting for grants.

“The Save Our Stages Act, now the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, was created to prevent widespread closures of venues that have been devastated by the loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Klobuchar and Cornyn wrote in a letter co-signed by more than 50 senators. “As supporters of the SVOG program, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that the relief reaches eligible applicants without further delay.”

The letter also includes a series of requests for more information that would clarify the scope and process of the program, including the SBA’s “justification for breaking grant awards, regardless of size, into multiple disbursements” and “timeline for subsequent disbursements and what grantees need to do to receive them.”

The letter alludes to some issues that may have been holding up the SVOG program. For instance, it notes that while there are “simple requirements” to determine who is eligible for an SVOG grant, the “insistence on strict compliance with competitive grant rules has created unnecessary delays in funding.” The letter also calls out the “restrictions that SBA has placed on communication with grant applicants,” saying more clarity in that realm could’ve led to better administrative support to stream line the application review process.

“Bureaucratic process cannot stand in the way of getting these desperately needed funds out the door,” the setter states. “Further delays are unacceptable and would have irreversible consequences for these industries.”

A representative for the SBA did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.

Letter to Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Guzman

Dear Administrator Guzman:

The Save Our Stages Act, now the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, was created to prevent widespread closures of venues that have been devastated by the loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As supporters of the SVOG program, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that the relief reaches eligible applicants without further delay.

With each passing day, more independent businesses are forced to shutter permanently or file for bankruptcy. Landlords and banks are no longer permitting deferrals and are pressing for immediate payment of past due accounts; businesses are receiving eviction notices; mom-and-pop businesses are being forced to sell.

It has been nearly six months since Congress passed the Save our Stages Act, nearly two months since the second launch of the program, and 51 days since the Small Business Administration (SBA) began receiving applications. We urge you to immediately take steps to ensure the funds are distributed to qualified applicants.

The SVOG program is unique, with necessary restrictions built in to ensure taxpayer funding goes only to eligible applicants in need. Under the terms of the law, the SVOG program requires the award of funding to eligible applicants who meet the simple requirements of the program. In this context, the insistence on strict compliance with competitive grant rules has created unnecessary delays in funding. Similarly, restrictions that SBA has placed on communication with grant applicants are unnecessary and have prevented the agency from providing administrative support to individual applicants that could have streamlined the application review process. Bureaucratic process cannot stand in the way of getting these desperately needed funds out the door.

Further delays are unacceptable and would have irreversible consequences for these industries. In an effort to keep our constituents informed and ensure our small businesses receive the support they were promised, we respectfully request you provide us with the following information:

1.       The number SVOG awards that have been approved;

2.       The number of SVOG grants that have been disbursed to recipients;

3.       The amount of SVOG funding that has been disbursed;

4.       The number of applications with holds;

5.       The number of first-priority applicants that have received an award notice;

6.       What SBA is doing to update small business owners on the status of their applications;

7.       What SBA is doing to ensure applicants are not incorrectly associated with similar-named individuals and entities on the List of Excluded Individuals/Entities (LEIE);

8.       What SBA is doing to correct false DNP designation notices sent to thousands of applicants;

9.       SBA’s justification for breaking grant awards, regardless of size, into multiple disbursements; and

10.   SBA’s timeline for subsequent disbursements and what grantees need to do to receive them.

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