Hours after applications opened Thursday, the Small Business Administration temporarily halted the start of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.
The portal to apply for the grant program, which could give eligible Broadway productions and theater owners up to $10 million, was set to open at noon Thursday, but quickly experienced technical issues, which prevented users from uploading documents or moving through the application process. At 4:15 p.m., the Small Business Administration shut down the portal.
A new time and date for the reopening of the portal has not yet been announced. However, the SBA said it would give applicants “advance notice” of that timeline on social media, its website, through direct communication with registrants and through industry associations, such as the Broadway League.
The portal was closed, in part, to allow for “fair and equal access” to the grant application, according to a spokesperson for the SBA. The Small Business Administration has just over $16 billion to distribute to an estimated 30,000 or more applicants and the grants are considered based on the order in which they are received.
“This decision was not made lightly as we understand the need to get relief quickly to this hard-hit industry,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Broadway News.
Broadway offices and theaters across the country had been preparing a large number of materials in anticipation for the program’s start. However, the day before the application’s start, many questions still remained on eligibility and required materials.
Shortly before the portal opened Thursday, the SBA released a new set of guidelines for applicants, with new and sometimes conflicting regulations on revenue considerations and other rules.
And less than two hours before the scheduled opening of the application portal, the Office of Inspector General, which monitors the Department of Commerce’s programs, expressed “serious concerns” about the program’s management due to a lack of staff and organizational structure.
The Small Business Administration has designated 500 people to review applications, but the Office of Inspector General said the program office only had one designated official, with the rest working on a temporary basis.
“OIG believes that SBA does not have the staff necessary to provide effective oversight over the SVOG program,” the report reads.
The stakes are high for applying to the program, because the grants are seen as means to restart the Broadway industry. The money can be used to cover expenses such as payroll costs, rent, mortgage payments and utilities, as theater owners, producers and other offices prepare to reopen.
However, in addition to the funding itself, the program only allows applicants to submit once before a determination on funding is made, underlining the need to fully understand the needs of the application process.