Live Industry Waits As Congress Crafts Final Aid Package
By: Francisco Rendon
With full-scale live events in 2020 becoming an increasingly doubtful prospect in many parts of the U.S., the industry’s eyes turn to Congress as the nation’s highest legislative body at press time was in the middle of crafting what may be the last major federal relief package for 2020.
The first major relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27. Dealing with more than $2 trillion, the CARES Act established a number of programs to provide relief for businesses and individuals negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which provided loans to businesses which could be forgiven if certain conditions were met.
CARES also famously included economic impact payments of up to $1,200 per adult for individuals making less than $99,000 per year and $500 per child under 17 years of age. It also introduced a number of job preservation measures including employee retention credits, payroll tax deferral, payroll support, and assistance for state, local and tribal governments.
The number of individuals touched by the CARES Act was massive but it did not deliver a long-term plan for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown, and many are wringing their hands as the initial aid expires. As Congress is expected to go on recess for a month after Aug. 7, sources told Pollstar at press time that the House and Senate wanted to have the relief bill done before the break, though if necessary, permission may be granted for representatives to work from home to work past the Aug. 8 deadline.
“The next 2 weeks are critical,” Michael Strickland, founder and CEO of Bandit Lites told Pollstar, as he has been liaising with multiple senators and congresspeople on behalf of the live industry. “I feel that there will ultimately be a single bill after the two sides [Democrats and Republicans] work out an agreement. It is only a guess what is in and what is out. There is a lot of work to do between now and then.”
The key issues for the live industry, as identified by Strickland, are additional PPP funding, “grant-style” loans with favorable conditions for repayment, and additional Enhanced Unemployment Insurance.
There are many bills currently circulating, a few of which Pollstar has already reported on – including the RESTART Act, the Save Our Stages Act and the ENCORES Act. These all have different sponsors and address some of the issues facing the industry though, as Strickland mentions, the final bill will likely incorporate features from all of these into one large package, similar to the CARES Act.
The RESTART Act, sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Todd Young (R-IN) was the first to garner major support from the live industry’s developing advocacy organizations. The National Independent Talent Organization (NITO), National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) all engaged in a campaign to drum up support for the RESTART Act, which proposes to extend the period businesses can be covered to receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding and proposes a new loan program to provide funding to cover six months of operating expenses, some of which can be forgiven, the rest of which can be repaid over seven years.During a campaign to generate support for the RESTART Act, organizations like the GRAMMYs and artists like Smash Mouth lent their voices.
The second act to be largely endorsed by the live industry was the Save Our Stages Act, which proposes to provide grants and other forms of relief to live music venues, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on July 22. That bill is also endorsed by NIVA and NITO, who say it would provide necessary relief to businesses, regardless of how optimistic one is about the next several months.
NIVA’s Audrey Fix Schaefer (who also works for I.M.P.) recently told Radio.com that even if venues are allowed to open with restricted capacities, the revenues from small shows don’t offset the losses of operating, meaning that the aid proposed by RESTART and SOS is essential.
“The only thing worse than being completely shuttered is trying to open at 25% because you’re going to lose money,” Schaefer said. “Bands aren’t going to be able to get on the road at 25% pay because it’s expensive to tour. You also can’t charge people who walk through the door for ten times as much just so you can cover everything.”
Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc / Getty ImagesSenator Todd YoungSenator Todd Young (R-IN) arrives for a weekly policy luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building on June 30 in Washington, D.C. Young is one of the sponsors of the RESTART Act, which organizations like NIVA, NITO and NAMM are endorsing as one of the best hopes for helping small venues and promoters get through the shutdown.The ENCORES Act proposes to provide venues with tax credits worth 50% of each refunded ticket for cancellations prompted by the COVID-19 shutdown. Only businesses that offered voucher alternatives to refunds; that promote, produce or manage live concerts, comedy shows, sporting events and live productions; and that have 500 or fewer full-time employees are eligible. It was put to the House of Representatives by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA). NIVA has endorsed this bill as well.
Rev. Moose, executive director and co-founder of NIVA, said that his organization’s research indicates that 90 percent of independent venues will not be able to survive more than 6 months without government aid and we are currently four-and-a-half months into the pandemic, meaning time is absolutely of the essence for Congress to provide some relief.
“If the government mandates the closure of these businesses, as it has, then the government has a responsibility to the thousands of individual businesses affected to make sure that they can remain whole through this, and that’s what the RESTART Act, the Save Our Stages Act and the ENCORES Act do,” Moose told Pollstar.
Many industries are hurting and in the throes of lobbying Congress for their own needs, Strickland told Pollstar, and Republicans and Democrats are still releasing drafts of their own large, sweeping bills (HEALS and HEROES acts, respectively), but he expects those will be modified as negotiations progress and people should not be alarmed if they seem far apart at different stages of the process.
The main thing, according to Moose, is that something has to be finished soon, as the next several weeks may well determine the life or death of literally thousands of independent venues and promoters across the country.
To learn more about how to support government aid for live industry businesses, visit www.saveourstages.com.