Arts Advocacy Updates
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has decided on all initial grant award phase applications submitted during the first 60 days of the start of the $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) Program (submitted by June 26, 2021). The federal agency continues to process initial grant applications submitted after June 26. The SBA also continues to execute and process requests within its appeals process for declined applicants and its modification process for those applicants that received at least $100 less than requested for their initial grant awards. As of September 27, the SBA has awarded more than $10 billion in grants. Furthermore, the SBA has publicly indicated that there is enough funding for all initial and supplemental grant awards.
The SBA has started executing the supplemental grant phase for eligible initial grant award recipients that have experienced a 70% or greater earned revenue loss for the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2019. The SBA reversed its decision in mid-August to require eligible entities to submit their updated financials for the first quarter of 2021 or the second quarter of 2021 if entities are seasonal employers. The SBA started sending out invitations to apply for supplemental grant awards on a rolling basis beginning on August 23. The SBA will continue to send out such invitations until all eligible entities have received their invitations. The SBA has not indicated a timeline for when it will finish sending out supplemental grant phase invitations to apply or finish sending out action items to update 2021 financials. However, SBA leadership has indicated to OA staff that OA will have the opportunity to alert SBA about any members who have not received an invitation once the supplemental grant phase invitation process is complete. The SBA has started issuing notices of supplemental grant awards on September 23 for those eligible entities that have applied and updated their financials. The SBA will continue to send out such grant award notices on a rolling basis.
The SBA is aware that many initial grant award recipients have already expended their funds and are waiting to submit their final financial reporting in compliance with the 15-day reporting deadline through submittal of Form SF-425. Currently, the SBA is not prepared to receive the form electronically through the program portal. The SBA continues to work on finalizing the initial and supplemental grant financial reporting processes and will issue additional guidance when it is available. In the meantime, the SBA has publicly indicated that Form SF-425 is not currently due and will not be required until the SVOG portal is able to receive the form. The SBA has last issued SVOG program guidance — post-application FAQ document — on July 28.
OA urges its members to continue to monitor their statuses on the SVOG program portal for any changes and to complete any pending action items. Further SVOG program inquiries and questions can be directed to Tony Shivers, director of government affairs, at TSshivers@operaamerica.org.
Congress Scheduled to Act on FY2022 Appropriations, Debt Limit, and Infrastructure Package Legislation This Week
Congress is scheduled to act and vote on major pieces of legislation this week, including funding for the federal government before the start of the next fiscal year (FY2022), beginning October 1, 2021; raising or suspending the federal debt limit; and an infrastructure package to invest in the nation’s roads, bridges, utilities, and broadband network. U.S. House Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, are working to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to temporarily fund the federal government for the next few weeks at current FY2021-enacted funding levels. For example, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) would start receiving its FY2021-enacted funding levels of $167.5 million each if Congress passed the continuing resolution. It is not clear whether the U.S. House and Senate Republicans will support the legislation or whether it will pass the U.S. Senate. Beyond that, OPERA America is advocating in the U.S. Senate for the passage of proposed FY2022 appropriations for the NEA and NEH as passed by the U.S. House — $201 million. This proposed funding is contained specifically in the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies FY2022 appropriations bill. The House combined its Interior appropriations bill with six other appropriations bills and passed the seven-bill package in late July.
House Democrats are also working on raising or suspending the federal debt limit to protect the “full faith and credit” of the United States. U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Jane Yellen has warned the U.S. Congress that it must raise the debt ceiling around October 18 to avoid the nation defaulting on existing debts. There is also uncertainty as to whether Republicans in both chambers of Congress will support the legislation, as Republican leadership has publicly indicated that Democrats should solely be accountable for raising the debt ceiling.
House Democratic leadership will also schedule a vote on the House floor by September 30 for the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill (H.R. 3684) that passed the U.S. Senate. The legislation is a “traditional” infrastructure bill that invests in the nation’s roads, bridges, utilities, ports, and broadband network. However, one of the ways the legislation would be financed is by the elimination of the Employee Retention Tax Credit for the fourth quarter of 2021. OPERA America has been aggressively engaging Congress and working with its partners across the arts and cultural sector and charitable nonprofit sector to reinstate the ERTC for the fourth quarter of 2021. OPERA America signed onto a signatory support letter sent to Congressional leadership in early September by the charitable nonprofit sector to reinstate the ERTC for the fourth quarter of 2021 and extend the ERTC for 2022.
The Biden-Harris administration has recently announced the revocation of current U.S. travel restrictions impacting visitors from 33 countries, effective in early November. International travelers coming into the U.S. will still be required to show proof of vaccination prior to boarding their arrival flight and show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of their arrival flight. U.S. citizens who are unvaccinated will need to be tested within one day before returning to the U.S. and after they arrive stateside. Fully vaccinated travelers will not need to quarantine upon arrival. Current U.S. land border policies for Mexico and Canada will remain in place, restricting cross-border travel with those two countries. Additional information concerning testing, contact tracing, and approved vaccines will be forthcoming from the executive branch in the coming weeks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention intends to issue a contact tracing order requiring airlines to collect information from U.S.-bound travelers, including phone numbers and email addresses, to alert travelers of potentials exposure. Airlines would be required to keep such information for 30 days.
Until the current U.S. travel restrictions are lifted, National Interest Exceptions are still required for travelers coming from or traveling through any of the 33 named countries.
OPERA America is an active member of the Performing Arts Visa Working Group that sent a letter in May to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas in September urging that these federal agencies address specific issues concerning international artists. This remains a top OA priority as various members resume their public performances and events in earnest as the nation moves beyond the current pandemic. The letters indicate that specific clarification is necessary to ensure that opportunities for the National Interest Exception are made available equitably to arts beneficiaries across all consular locations. Additionally, as consulates resume issuing visas, consideration should be given to the time- and date-specific nature of arts events. The working group also urges the State Department to provide flexibility for those artists who received visa approvals prior to the onset of COVID-19 and who now need to alter their dates for U.S.-based performances.
Further information concerning international artist issues can be found on the ArtistsfromAbroad website. OPERA America will keep its members informed of any new developments as it continues to engage the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concerning these important issues.