Entertainment venues across New Jersey in holding pattern for federal stimulus funds

Entertainment venues that were hard-hit by the loss of business caused by the COVID-19 pandemic thought that they had a lifeline in the form of federal stimulus grants. But getting the money into their dwindling accounts is proving to be taking longer than many anticipated.

The grants allocated $15 billion for live performance venues and movie theater operators. But no money has been distributed just yet. The venues have been closed for nearly one year, and many are on the brink of closing.

“We’re upset,” says Basie Center for the Arts President and CEO Adam Phillipson.

The nonprofit Red Bank Theater has been counting on the federal stimulus to recover lost income.

“And now we’re just waiting and waiting and waiting and at the end of the day still not knowing how much we’ll get and how much we’ll qualify for,” Phillipson says.

Philipson, like most venue operators, says he was relieved last December when Congress approved a second round of COVID-19 stimulus, which included grants to a wide-range of shuttered venues. But more than two months later, there is still not even a grant application on the website of the Small Business Administration.

“I don’t understand how anybody can be expected to maintain their business going on a year with not a single dollar of income. It’s unfathomable,” says Rev. Moose of the National Independent Venue Association.

Moose successfully lobbied for the federal funds, only to be disappointed by the rollout.

A Small Business Administration official tells News 12 that there is no date set for when the application will be available, adding that the SBA must build the grant distribution program from the ground-up, leaving venues hoping to survive until the funding comes through.

An estimated 30,000 venues in the country are eligible for the stimulus grants. The grants cover 45% of earned revenue losses or up to $10 million for a single venue, wherever is the lesser amount.