Lawmakers Introduce Two Bills To Support Independent Music Venues Struggling Amid Pandemic: 'Our Venues Are In Grave Trouble'

Ariel Parrella-Aureli
July 25, 2020 - 4:30 pm

(WBBM NEWSRADIO) --  U.S. lawmakers are stepping up to support local, independent music venues across the country hit hard by the pandemic with two new bills introduced into congress that would provide financial relief and federal grant program eligibility.

Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota who ran for president, and John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, introduced the Save Our Stages Act on July 22, which would provide Small Business Administration grants for independent music venue operators affected by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

A day later, Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Ron Kind and Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Mike Kelly introduced the Entertainments New Credit Opportunity for Relief & Economic Sustainability, also called the ENCORES Act.

Both acts would provide needed financial support for venues on the verge of closing and provide tax credit for refunded tickets from canceled shows. The Save Our Stages Act, which seeks to allocate $10 billion for the grants, would also make it so large corporations cannot apply for the grants created exclusively for small venues.

“As the first to close and last to open, independent art centers — like the Pablo Center here in Western Wisconsin — across the country are at risk of closing,” said Rep. Ron Kind in a statement. “In this time of such uncertainty and darkness, we cannot allow the light of the arts to go out. I am proud of the work we’ve done to put together a bipartisan proposal to help gems like the Pablo Center continue to thrive when this crisis ends.”

Justin Vernon, popular musician known as Bon Iver, said missing out on live music has been the biggest downside of the pandemic.

 “Our venues are in grave trouble,” Vernon said, a Wisconsin native. “Thus, we support Congressman Ron Kind and the State of Wisconsin as they work to protect music venues. With this bill, and once we put the pandemic behind us, there will be new opportunities for us to change and grow together in our sacred venues in the light of music.”

The ENCORES Act will allow music venues to recoup some of the loses they have experienced due to ticket refunds from canceled events by:

  • Providing a tax credit for 50% of the value for refunded tickets
  • Eligible business are ones that promote, produce, or manage: live concerts, comedy shows, sporting events, and live theatrical productions
  • Eligible businesses must have 500 or fewer eligible employees
  • Businesses must have offered a voucher to customers first, and customers opted for a refund instead, in order to get the credit.

The Save Our Stages Act would help financially by:

  • Direct the SBA to make grants to eligible venues equal to the lesser of either 45 percent of operation costs from calendar year 2019 or $12 million
  • Allow the Small Business Administrator to issue supplemental grants in the future if funding remains available and applicants can demonstrate need
  • Require recipients to return remaining funding after one year from the date of disbursement
  • Permit recipients to use grants for rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, PPE procurement, payments to contractors, and more
  • Authorize the appropriation of $10 billion for the grant program

 “This legislation would help ensure that small entertainment venues can continue to operate, and serve our communities for generations to come,” said Klobachar in a statement about the Save Our Stages Act.

Chicago venues have been fighting for more funds since the pandemic began and have called on Illinois lawmakers to pass a bill similar to the Save Our Stages Act and the ENCORES Act. While they have yet to sponsor a bill or voice support of the ones newly introduced, getting the federal government’s attention on the issue is a move in the right direction for venue staples like the Hideout.

“You spoke, they listened, and now we encourage you to speak again louder than ever!” wrote the venue on Facebook about the news. 

Beat Kitchen, who also shared the news, urged constituents to still contact local representatives to tell them to support the bills.

The Hideout, Beat Kitchen and over 12 other local venues, are part of the Save Our Stages campaign, sponsored by the Chicago Independent Venue League and the National Independent Venue Association.