Crashes on First Day
The government’s $16 billion relief fund for live music spaces and other cultural venues was set to begin taking applications on Thursday (April 8), but the Small Business Administration shut the system down after a glitch kept any applications from being processed, as The New York Times reports. The setback for the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant, as the program is known—part of the Save Our Stages Act—left venue owners worried and upset.
“This is an absolute disaster,” the owner of Brooklyn club C’mon Everybody, Eric Sosa, tweeted at the Small Business Administration, which oversees the SVOG. An agency spokesperson told the Times: “Technical issues arose despite multiple successful tests of the application process.”
The SBA ran into similar problems a year ago with the Paycheck Protection Program, which it also runs. As the Times notes, the agency’s systems crashed when that initiative started taking applications and when a second batch of funds came online. Venue owners expressed particular frustration because the SVOG application process is “first-come, first-serve,” meaning venues that apply sooner have higher odds of receiving relief before funds are exhausted.
The program was already beset with difficulties before the first day for applications began. The previous night (April 7), the SBA published and then took down a 58-page guide for applicants, which was later posted in revised form only minutes before the applications portal went live on Thursday. An agency spokesperson, speaking to the Times, cited “some last-minute system changes.”
The SBA’s inspector general issued an alert on the morning that the portal was about to open, flagging “serious concerns” about the agency’s ability to oversee the SVOG program. The current audit plan, according to the inspector general’s report, “exposes billions of dollars to potential misuse of funds.”
The SVOG program was passed into law in December 2020, after months of campaigning led by the now-year-old National Independent Venue Association. In late February, lawmakers wrote to the SBA questioning the delay in providing funds to venues.