Congress COVID-19 relief bill includes $15 billion for Broadway, small music venues, movie theaters

After more than nine months of empty stages, live music venues and theaters in the United States—along with independent movie houses—appear to be headed toward much-needed relief to the tune of $15 billion.

That help, dubbed the Save Our Stages Act, is part of Congress’ $900 billion COVID-19 relief package announced Sunday. As of midday Monday, lawmakers were racing to finalize the legislative text to send it to President Trump’s desk before government funding lapses at midnight. The money set aside for the Save Our Stages Act would go to assist live music and theater venues, independent movie theaters, and other cultural institutions.

“These are people’s jobs and livelihoods, and they need this help now,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Twitter.

The relief bill, written last summer by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), earned kudos from a range of sources including the National Independent Venue Association, known as NIVA (which had been pushing for this help for months), and an array of celebrities such as comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

“Independent venues were some of the first establishments to close down and will likely be some of the last to open,” Klobuchar said. “I refuse to sit by and let the music die, which is why I was proud to introduce the bipartisan Save our Stages Act.”

Even as vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infection begin to make their way to citizens, the performance arts sector faces a protracted slog, with unanswered questions around when live performances can resume, among others. Continued pain almost certainly awaits.

For instance, Broadway theater productions, which in 2019 had a $12.6 billion impact on the economy and supported dozens of thousands of jobs, according to the New York State labor department, will be dark until at least late May 2021.

NIVA recently said that 90% of the country’s independent venues could shutter permanently in quick order without federal aid. Billboard published a running list of live music venues that have closed permanently because of their dark stages during the pandemic, including icons such as New York’s Copacabana and the Douglas Corner Cafe in Nashville. And even as some larger movie houses have reopened, they have done so at reduced capacity. So far, box office revenues are down 80% from 2019 levels, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The broader relief package will give most Americans a $600 stimulus check. The bill also provides $300 weekly enhanced unemployment payments to most jobless Americans. The $900 billion stimulus package is far smaller than the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March.

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