Live Entertainment Industry Seeks Urgent Relief As Congress Tries To Hammer Out Next Covid-19 Deal

As negotiations continue in Congress for a year-end Covid-19 relief deal, those connected to the live entertainment industry made an appeal to a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday for the urgent need of a lifeline.

“We have been shut since March 13th. We will not be open until June or July at the earliest. Zero income,” said Michael Strickland, owner of lighting company Bandit Lites. “We are all sitting dead still.”

“We have been fully shut for nine months now, with no work for our employees to do. Many, many venues are completely out of funds,” said Adam Hartke, owner of Cotillion and operating partner of WAVE, two live music venues in Wichita, KS. He said that a survey of independent music operators showed that 90% of smaller, mom-and-pop venues would go out of business without assistance.

Speakers expressed support for extending Paycheck Protection Program, the small business relief funds that were part of Covid-19 relief packages that passed last spring. But for many those forgivable loans covered only eight weeks of payroll and, in Hartke’s case, “about a half a month of core bills.” He said that since then, their employees have been laid off or furloughed.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who chaired the Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, gave some words of encouragement when he said that some of the proposals enjoy bipartisan support.

That includes support for the Save Our Stages Act, introduced last summer by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), which would establish a grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers and talent representatives. Independent movie theaters were since added to the legislation. The grants also would cover 45% of gross earned revenue in 2019, up to $12 million. It also would provide supplemental grants based on continued revenue loss. Unlike PPP, it would not tie grants to a set amount for payroll.

But Strickland called for other measures, including the RESTART Act, which includes a new loan program to cover up to six months of payroll, benefits and fixed operating expenses. A portion of the loan would be forgiven based on the revenue losses the businesses incurred in 2020, with the rest repaid over seven years and with no payments due in the first year.

Ron Lafitte, president of Patriot Management, said that while an expanded PPP and the passage of a Save Our Stages Act would help, but it would not solve all the problems facing the industry. The Save Our Stages Act, he said, would cover only 30% of venues.

“We are talking about an entire workforce has nowhere else to go,” he said, adding that one of his tour managers has been making ends meet by selling a new beverage. “He has been going from convenience store to convenience store,” he said.

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