Congress Reaches Agreement on Coronavirus Relief Package, Including $15 Billion 'Save Our Stages' Act

Industry News   Congress Reaches Agreement on Coronavirus Relief Package, Including $15 Billion 'Save Our Stages' Act
 
The stimulus bill, expected to pass the House and Senate December 21, follows months of political stalemate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Save Our Stages_The Broadway League_2020_HR
Laura Benanti, Charlotte St. Martin, Senator Chuck Schumer, Thomas Schumacher, and Schele Williams Jeremy Daniel for The Broadway League

A coronavirus relief bill that includes a version of the Save Our Stages Act—an act that theatre and live performance industry members have championed as a partial remedy during the extended shutdown—is expected to pass in congress December 21 after months of halted negotiations and political stalemates.

Though the House of Representatives and Senate have not revealed the exact text of the agreed-upon package, The New York Times reports that the funding totals $900 billion, a fraction of the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act approved by the Democrat-controlled House, though a lift from the $500 billion “skinny” bill proposed by the Senate in October.

In a joint statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the two Democrats confirmed that the new omnibus package, which should arrive on President Trump's desk to sign after passing in both chambers, includes $15 billion in funding for live venues, independent movie theatres, and cultural institutions as part of the package that has been referred to as “Save Our Stages.”

As detailed in the initial proposal, the bipartisan act, authored by Democratic Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn, would offer multi-million-dollar grants to live venues (including large-scale houses such as Broadway theatres) to keep arts workers employed and maintain expenses including rent and mortgages. The inclusion follows a two-hour hearing that took place December 15 that brought to light the urgency for updated paycheck protection loans, with testimonies from myriad venue owners from across the country.

The Broadway League, the umbrella organization that has become the face of a shutdown keeping the Main Stem shuttered through at least May 2021, has publicly heralded the measure, including at a September rally in Times Square with Senator Schumer. During the event, League President Charlotte St. Martin and Chair Thomas Schumacher emphasized the oft-cited figure of annual theatregoers—14.77 million last season—which succeeds the attendance of the state’s 10 major sports teams combined—contributing nearly $15 billion to the New York economy and supporting employment for nearly 100,000 individuals.

The Be An #ArtsHero initiative, which has been vocally advocating for artist protections during the closures, shared their enthusiasm for the move ahead, while still emphasizing the additional work needed to bring relief to those thousands of workers—not just private venues—impacted: “This win must be recognized as a beginning, not a conclusion, to the long road ahead for relief and recovery. We urge the Biden administration to move swiftly to create additional relief legislation to address the financial crisis facing the millions of Americans who have been catastrophically impacted by COVID-19.”

The continued need for support on an individual level is underscored by the inclusion of a one-time $600 stimulus check—half that of the single payment in the spring.

READ: How to Help Arts Workers During an Unprecedented Era of Theatre

"We are especially thankful that Congress is delivering immediate relief to our unemployed workers and their families when they need it most," said St. Martin ahead of the official vote. "We look forward to congress passing the stimulus bill and thank the hundreds of congressional leaders who supported this vital relief, especially Senator Schumer and the senators who launched the bill—Senators Cornyn, Klobuchar—and of course, Speaker Pelosi, for their support. We look forward to the lights of Broadway returning and shining brighter than ever before."

Also included in the package are provisions for vaccine distribution, a total of approximately $284 billion in PPP loans, employee retention tax credits, and subsidies for broadband access as workers and students continue their operations remotely.

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