The $ 900 billion coronavirus aid package includes a long-awaited move to send aid to struggling independent theaters and music venues.
But now these cultural centers and small businesses are waiting for help again.
The measure was supposed to become law this week, but President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to blow up the deal, the result of months of controversial negotiations. It is not clear whether the president intends to veto the bill or not to sign it for the remaining weeks of his presidency.
The law provides $ 15 billion in grants to facilities including museums and zoos. It’s a multi-month push for the Save Our Stages Act, a bipartisan plan to promote small arts and entertainment venues that have come under pressure during the pandemic health restrictions.
Private, small performing arts venues, cinemas, museums and zoos could receive grants from the Small Business Administration – starting with those where revenues are down more than 90% year over year. Companies can use the money on expenses such as rent or mortgage, utilities, payroll, insurance, and maintenance to help them meet public health guidelines.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota who co-sponsored the bill in July with Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said the plan would provide targeted relief to companies that usually closed first and were among the last to open.
“These are some of the companies and phases that have been hurt the most and that have literally been all but closed,” she told CNBC on Tuesday. The interview came just hours before Trump, who was expected to sign the law, called it a “disgrace” and asked lawmakers to change it.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the entertainment industry. Live shows have been canceled for nearly nine months and dozen of blockbuster films have been postponed to 2021. This has cracked the bottom line and threatened to bankrupt businesses large and small.
However, it is only the smallest companies that could benefit from Klobuchar and Cornyn’s plan. Venues seeking help cannot fall into more than two of the following groups:
- Listed companies
- Multinational companies
- Companies that operate in more than 10 states
- Companies with more than 500 full-time employees
- Companies that have received at least 10% of their revenue from government sources
“The larger chains like AMC and Regal had easy access to funding that some of the smaller operators don’t,” said Doug Calidas, Klobuchar’s legislative director. “Even if the worst-case scenario comes up and they don’t make it, they usually get bought out and stay, while many of these very small theaters, if they close their doors, would be.”
The bill would provide relief to hundreds of independent cinemas that the National Association of Theater Owners has warned could close permanently if not supported.
“This act will help us survive until the vaccines are widely distributed,” said Brock Bagby, executive vice president of B & B Theaters, a family-owned company with 48 theaters in eight states.
While movie theaters in most states have been able to operate with limited capacity, live entertainment centers like Broadway in New York City are still closed.
The Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents around 51,000 stage actors and managers in the live theater industry, said more than 1,100 actors and managers lost their jobs on Broadway during the pandemic.
The theater industry in New York City supports more than 96,000 local jobs, according to the Broadway League. This includes those involved in productions and those who work in the Broadway area such as retailers, taxi drivers, and restaurant owners.
“We are grateful for this bipartisan deal, which is immediate relief and a lifeline for the future in our industry,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, after lawmakers closed the deal – but before Trump got the deal after it Conclusion ripped passage in Congress.
The group declined to provide additional comments when CNBC asked for a response to Trump’s subsequent attack on the Covid relief bill.