On Tuesday, President Donald Trump torched the chances of a Congressional stimulus bill passing before the election. "I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business," Trump wrote in a series of tweets less than 24 hours after returning to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he was treated for symptoms caused by COVID-19. While that bizarre statement proved that there's no relief in sight for the unemployed, the service industry, small businesses, and more, Trump also effectively doomed hundreds, if not thousands of independent venues who need a bailout to survive the pandemic.
The National Independent Venue Association, which is composed of over 2,800 venues across all 50 states, has been fighting for the survival of these spaces since April following mass closures and the cancellation of live music events. But after months of partisan deadlock on Congress, a couple tweets from the President basically wiped out all hope of long overdue Federal assistance. An oft-cited NIVA survey says that 90% of independent venues will be forced to permanently shutter by the end of the year if they don't get a bailout; that's becoming a reality. Just this week, Washington D.C.'s iconic U Street Music Hall closed for good along with Des Moines, Iowa's Vaudeville Mews. These losses are piling up, even in music bastions like Nashville and New Orleans. Each purposeful delay from our elected officials is guaranteeing the devastating loss of businesses, jobs, and local music communities sustained by these cultural institutions.
This is a devastating blow for NIVA, which put out a statement shortly after Trump's initial tweet. "We have been sounding the alarm since April that if our members don’t get emergency assistance, they will go under forever—and it’s happening,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, director of communications for NIVA. “This is real. We need help. We urge Congress and the White House to continue negotiations and reach a deal quickly or there will be a mass collapse of this industry." The press release cited the Save Our Stages Act, the updated HEROES Act, and the need for expanded and continued unemployment benefits for those out of work. It's a bleak read; because we and our elected officials know that a targeted bailout is the only way these venues can survive, and they are doing nothing.
Through no fault of their own, these venues were forced by the government to close their doors. They were the first businesses to shutter and will be the last to open as no one has any idea when large gatherings will be permitted, let alone safe, again. Venues still have considerable expenses with rent and utilities, and the first Paycheck Protection Program didn't do enough to keep them afloat. Opening at a limited capacity isn't a feasible option either since the profit margins to run a concert are so thin. Even if they could reopen at full capacity, there are no tours and no way to consistently host live events. They need targeted assistance like the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act, which now has over 160 Congressional cosponsors, and the updated HEROES Act, which gives these independent venues loans to stay afloat and cover expenses until it's safe to reopen.
Trump muddied the waters further with more tweets Tuesday night, seemingly reversing course on considering any stimulus package. "The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business," said Trump on Twitter. "Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!" This is an empty promise because he knows Democratic leadership in Congress will refuse to sign piecemeal legislation in negotiations. Since the original Paycheck Protection Program funds from the CARES Act didn't help independent venues cover all their costs, this proposal will not help them.
There's little reason to believe President Trump's erratic tweets that if he wins the election he'll immediately pass a stimulus package. He's consistently broken his campaign trail promises and also claims that it'll take months to figure out the results of the election. If he loses the election, insiders worry Republicans intend to reject any stimulus package to tank the economy for the incoming Democratic administration. This hurts everyone including the unemployed, the hospitality industry, and businesses everywhere. Independent venues can't wait any longer as expenses continue to stack up with no foreseeable return date. Besides signing NIVA's #SaveOurStages petitions, voting, and wearing a mask, there's little we can do except watch Trump and other elected officials guarantee an extinction-level event for our favorite venues.