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Article Published: 26 Oct 2021

Arts Advocacy Updates

Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program Update; SBA Continues to Execute Supplemental Grant Phase on Rolling Basis

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) continues to execute the $16+ billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) Program for eligible arts and cultural-related entities that have had to shut down and/or postpone their public performances and events due to the current pandemic. The SBA continues to execute multiple phases and processes under the program, including the initial grant phase, supplemental grant phase, appeal phase for declined applicants, and the reconsideration for award modification phase for those grantees who received less than initially requested.

The SBA has disbursed $11+ billion under the program to date and has assured national interested stakeholders that there will be enough funding for all eligible grantees. More specifically, the SBA has been executing the supplemental grant phase (awarding 50% of initial grants to grantees) on a rolling basis, including sending out notices of award and disbursing supplemental grants electronically.

OPERA America encourages its member grantees to continue to monitor the SVOG program portal for any status changes on a regular basis. The SBA also continues to release program progress reports (as of October 18) and public data concerning grantees (as of October 25) for public consumption. OPERA America also encourages its member grantees to continue to leverage their federal pandemic relief to support their local arts communities and individual creative workers and to provide increased access to various arts-related programs and events by their local communities.

Recently, the SBA also posted two sets of updated FAQs:

Post-Application Award Guidance (as of October 20)

  • The post-application award guidance provides further information to grantees concerning their final financial reporting after expending their awards and the closeout phase of the program.
  • Grantees will receive an email with an action item to complete and submit their finalized budget. This communication will occur for grantees after their SVOG application has been considered for all possible awards. This will be the last opportunity for grantees to finalize their budgets before reporting expenditures and initiating award closeout. Please note that the SBA has provided grantees maximum spending flexibility between allowable categories with budgets.
  • The post-award guidance provides important information for grantees to assess the eligibility and allowability of various costs.
  • The guidance emphasizes the importance of grantees preserving supporting documents and maintaining appropriate records concerning their awards and expenditures (4 years for payroll receipts and 3 years for all other expense receipts).
  • Closeout Timeline
    • The SBA recommends for grantees to initiate their SVOG program award closeout soon after expending their award funding by responding to the Expense Report Action Item in the SVOG program portal. Grantees are required to respond to the Expense Report Action Item and initiate the closeout process no later than 120 days after the end of their budget period as reflected in Form 1222.
    • The SVOG program is implementing a multi-step grant award closeout. Guidance and the program portal capabilities for the SVOG award closeout process are in development and will be available at the beginning of December 2021.
  • The SBA will execute a randomly selected SVOG monitoring process on various grantees to be conducted remotely by SVOG program staff.
  • Auditing
    • Please note that grantees who expend more than $750,000 in federal funds (across all sources) within their fiscal year are REQUIRED to complete an audit. PPP loans DO NOT count against the $750,000 expenditure threshold. SVOG program grantees who do not surpass the $750,000 expenditure threshold within their fiscal year will not be responsible for conducting an audit under these requirements. The audit requirements differ between for-profit entities and all other non-federal entities (including nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, state, local government, and Indian tribes).
  • The SBA has established a reconsideration process for award modification 2.0 allowing ALL grantees to correct any mistakes made during their application process that resulted in less of an award than initially requested. Please note that this new process is based on available funding and after the SBA has processed all grants under all phases under the program. Also, the new process will only be for grantees and not declined applicants. Additional information concerning this new process will be available soon.
  • Please make sure your email servers recognize and allow emails from svogrant@sba.gov. Further inquiries concerning the active grantee phase and award closeout can be directed svogrant@sba.gov.

Updated Regular Program Guidance (as of October 20).

  • The only change in the document is concerning FAQ #207 related to commission income and any retainers to be counted as gross and earned revenue by talent representatives. The SBA has deemed that question as “no longer relevant.”

The SBA is also planning to host additional technical assistance webinars and offices hours later in the fall for grantees concerning the final financial reporting and award closeout process. The SBA will provide further information about these opportunities soon. Any additional questions concerning the SVOG program can be directed to Tony Shivers, OPERA America's director of government affairs, at TShivers@operaamerica.org.


OPERA America Urges Congress to Increase Annual Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts

OPERA America continues to advocate before Congress for increased annual funding for all federal arts and cultural-related agencies, programs, and initiatives, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This is a great opportunity for OPERA America members and interested stakeholders to also engage with their federal elected officials concerning the importance of the arts and cultural sector in recognition and celebration of National Arts and Humanities Month.

The NEA, as a federal agency, is the only arts funder in America, public or private, that supports the arts in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. NEA funding also helps leverage additional forms of support — a dollar invested by the NEA is matched by more than $9 from other state, local, and private sources, magnifying the impact of the federal investment.

The NEA, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), is currently receiving funding at FY2021-enacted funding levels — $167.5 million — as a result of recently enacted legislation to temporarily fund the federal government at FY2021-enacted funding levels until December 3. OPERA America is urging Congress to pass funding legislation that provides a proposed $201 million in funding for the NEA and NEH as already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. This would be a historic level of funding for these two federal agencies. The highest level of annual funding the NEA has received was in 1992 at $175.9 million.

OPERA America encourages its members and interested stakeholders to contact their federal elected officials by using this action alert, which only takes a couple of minutes to complete and send out. The action alert highlights the importance of the arts and cultural sector not only in terms of advancing the creativity of the nation, but also because of its impact on the economy at all levels.

The NEA and other national arts stakeholders have released current economic data showing that the arts and cultural sector (production of arts and cultural goods and services) added 4.3 percent directly to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), for a total approaching $1 trillion ($919.7 billion). This amount is greater than the value added by other important industries, including transportation, construction, and agriculture. Prior to the current pandemic, the arts and cultural sector employed 5.2 million workers with a total compensation of $447 billion. The arts and cultural sector is one of the top three industries in most of the states based on data gathered and compiled by the Bureau of Economic Analysis under the U.S. Department of Commerce.


U.S. Foreign Travel and International Artistry Update

The Biden-Harris administration has established November 8 as the date when current U.S. travel restrictions will be lifted for fully vaccinated international travelers from 33 countries. Foreign nationals flying to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus when the policy becomes effective. Vaccinated travelers will also have to test negative for the virus within three days of departure, and unvaccinated Americans returning to the United States will be required to test negative within one day of leaving and again after arriving. The U.S. Centers for Disease and Control released additional guidance concerning full vaccinations for non-U.S. travelers and what types of vaccines are accepted by the U.S.

November 8 will also be the effective date for the travel policy recently announced by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas concerning travel from Mexico and Canada to the U.S. The new travel policy will allow non-essential, fully vaccinated travelers who have appropriate documentation to enter the U.S. through various land and ferry ports of entry (POEs). The new policy will be implemented in two phases:

  • Starting November 8, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers from Mexico or Canada to enter the United States at land and ferry POEs for non-essential reasons. Travelers will be required to have appropriate paperwork that provides proof of vaccination. Individuals who have not been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be allowed to travel for non-essential purposes from Canada and Mexico into the United States via land and ferry POEs. 
  • Beginning in early January 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will require that all inbound foreign national travelers crossing U.S. land or ferry POEs — whether for essential or non-essential reasons — be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination.

OPERA America continues to engage Congress and the Biden-Harris administration concerning various international artistry issues impacting the ability of its members and the overall arts and cultural sector to apply and bring international artists stateside to the U.S.

OPERA America is an active member of the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, which consists of other key partners within the arts and cultural sector to address various issues with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The working group sent letters to the U.S. secretaries at both agencies — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas — to address the backlog of visa petitions, consistency of engagement with U.S. consulates around the world, and the inclusion of international artists under the National Interest Exception rule. The working group also recently submitted comments (October 18) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concerning proposed plans by the federal agency to separate Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, into several individual forms. The working group’s comments centered around keeping Form I-129 as one form to avoid confusion, further simplifying the form to speed up the application processing, and lifting the existing 25-beneficiary cap on the form to bring down costs of filing visa petitions. The working group will continue to engage both agencies to ensure various issues that impact the arts and cultural sector are addressed in a timely manner.


Biden-Harris Administration Announces NEA and NEH Chair Nominees; NEA Schedules Decisions on American Rescue Plan Grants for December

A reminder that the Biden-Harris administration recently announced its intent to nominate Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Shelley Lowe as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The schedule for confirmation by the U.S. Senate remains uncertain at this point. However, during the U.S. Senate confirmation process, both nominees will have opportunities to engage Congress concerning the importance of the NEA and NEH to the arts and cultural sector, the importance of the overall arts and cultural sector for the nation, and the importance of advancing and supporting the creative economy and creative workers.

The NEA is scheduled to issue decisions in December concerning its grantmaking funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $135 million each in emergency funding to the NEA and NEH to provide economic relief to the arts and cultural sector during the current pandemic. The NEA is providing economic relief to state arts agencies, local and regional arts commissions for subgranting, and direct grants to arts-related organizations. Grantees will be able to begin expending their grant awards in January 2022.