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Help Was On The Way For Shuttered Venues. Then The Website Crashed

The Small Business Administration yesterday launched with great fanfare a long awaited portal that would allow arts venues closed down by pandemic to apply for grant money to cover rent, utilities, insurance and other accumulated expenses. The site went live at noon, but was wracked with so many technical issues that the SBA decided to shut the portal down indefinitely.

"After working with our vendors to address them as quickly as possible, the SBA temporarily suspended the portal and will re-open it as soon as possible to ensure all applicants have fair and equal access," the agency said in a statement. "This decision was not made lightly as we understand the need to ensure critical assistance gets to you as swiftly as possible."

Anyone who tried to log on to apply for grants when the portal first opened was met with different error messages at each step. The SBA clarified in a tweet that they did not accept any applications or distribute any funding.

Audrey Fix Schaefer is the communications director for the National Independent Venue Association, which has been lobbying for support for small venues. She says that the program is a lifeline. "We all want the SBA to be successful in providing desperately needed emergency relief ASAP."

The SVOG is a $16 billion grant program that was set up to help qualifying live music venues, independent theaters, museums and other live-event spaces hit hard by pandemic-prompted shutdowns. It was passed with a bipartisan effort as a part of the coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Trump in December. But it's taken a long time to arrive: the agency has said that it's a first-of-a-kind program for them, and they had to build it from the ground up.

"Further delays for eligible business owners are unacceptable," Rep. Roger Williams said in a statement yesterday. "I urge the SBA to make the SVOG a top priority moving forward and President Biden to put qualified individuals into key leadership positions so similar failures will not occur in the future."

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.