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Article Published: 15 Feb 2022

Arts Advocacy Update

Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) Program Update

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) continues to implement the $16 billion Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG) program. The SBA has awarded a little over $14 billion total according to the latest SVOG progress report as of February 7. The SBA is working to provide more robust technical assistance to grantees as the federal agency transitions to the grant management phase of the program, including providing additional office hours and post-award guidance to help grantees as they expend their grant funding.

Grantees can expect to receive a pending action item from the program portal in the coming days and weeks to submit their final financial reports. There will be a deadline to submit the final financial reports that should contain current and forecasted expenditures. Please note that there will be additional opportunities to submit expenditures through the submittal of subsequent expense reports to the federal agency. Here is the latest public data report (as of February 15) for the program that contains names and types of grantees, grant amounts, and where grantees are located.

It is anticipated that the SVOG program will have leftover funding, and OPERA America is working to ensure that no leftover funding gets returned to the U.S. Treasury or is used to pay for legislation that does not directly benefit the arts and cultural sector. There is also bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House and Senate — Save Our Stages Extension Act (H.R. 5429 and S. 2889) — to extend to March 11, 2023, the time frame during which SVOG grantees can use grant funds to cover their expenses. OPERA America is urging Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible and is collaborating with the arts and cultural sector on various advocacy efforts to urge the passage of this legislation.


Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance for Performing Arts Organizations

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is offering financial support to qualifying organizations, including performing arts organizations, to support costs associated with the safe opening and operations of facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These resources, outlined in the policy document "Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic: Safe Opening and Operation Work Eligible for Public Assistance," are administered by state and regional FEMA offices and are available to entities that meet the general requirements to qualify for FEMA public assistance. This pandemic relief may help support the costs of masks, testing, and other costs incurred through December 31, 2021, for those organizations that own their facilities or are legally responsible for their facilities. OPERA America encourages its members and the overall opera community to direct the owners of their live venues and other facilities to the following pandemic relief opportunity.

  • In 2008, the performing arts community successfully secured FEMA eligibility for “performing arts organizations” under the agency’s definition of a “public nonprofit (PNP),” which has enabled certain nonprofit organizations to receive FEMA support following a natural disaster. The general eligibility requirements for FEMA support also apply to this COVID-19 relief opportunity and general PNP eligibility is outlined in FEMA’s Fact Sheet and in the Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide Version 3.1.
  • FEMA COVID-19 Safe Opening support is administered through state disaster relief offices, so the experience of applicants may vary. Organizations seeking to learn more about eligibility and registering to apply can start by contacting their state’s emergency management agency.


Call to Action to Reinstate Employee Retention Tax Credit for Fourth Quarter of 2021 and Extend to 2022

OPERA America is encouraging its members, interested stakeholders, the opera community, and the overall arts and cultural sector to contact their federal elected officials as soon as possible to urge the reinstatement of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) for the fourth quarter of 2021 and to extend the tax benefit for 2022. The ERTC is a refundable payroll tax credit that provides critical support to reinstate and retain employees on the payroll amid the continuing hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted in March 2020, and is administered by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, enacted in March 2021, extended the program for all the calendar quarters of 2021. However, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted in November 2021, included a provision that eliminated access for the fourth quarter of 2021 despite employers having already planned for the availability of those funds.

There is bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House and Senate to retroactively reinstate the ERTC for the fourth quarter of 2021 — the Employee Retention Tax Credit Reinstatement Act (H.R. 6161) introduced in December and S. 3625 introduced in February. Please use this OPERA America Action Alert to urge your federal elected officials to pass this bipartisan legislation without delay. OPERA America is a national organization supporter of the legislation in the U.S. House and Senate and signed onto a support letter to the Congress and the presidential administration urging action as soon as possible.

Below are talking points to utilize when communicating with your federal elected officials on the phone, in person, or in virtual meetings.

  • The ERTC has been a critically important tool for companies and nonprofit organizations to be able to rebuild and continue to deliver critical services to the communities that they serve, now and into the future.
  • Many employers have been counting on fourth-quarter (2021) access to the ERTC to support the decisions they have made to bring employees back on the payroll and increase operating capacity to serve their communities in the coming months.
  • Congress can act by reinstating this critical form of promised COVID-19 relief. This action to retain the ERTC is supported by the broad cross-section of the nonprofit sector, the third-largest employer in the U.S. economy, as well as the wider business sector.
  • Opera companies and opera-related organizations, as well as the overall arts and cultural sector, continue to serve communities across the nation during the current pandemic. Now they need Congress to retroactively reinstate this tax benefit for the fourth quarter of 2021. We also urge that this tax benefit be extended through 2022 to help ensure a strong economic recovery of the arts and cultural sector from the pandemic.
  • The arts and cultural sector is an important part of the national economy, as well as the economy at the state and local levels. According to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce (and based on the latest economic data, from 2019), the production of arts and cultural goods and services in the U.S. added 4.3 percent directly to the nation’s GDP, for a total approaching a trillion dollars ($919.7 billion). This amount remains greater than the value added by such major industries as construction, transportation, and agriculture. Arts and cultural industries had 5.2 million workers on payroll with total compensation of $447 billion. This figure does not include self-employed arts workers.
  • Congress can also act by improving this critical form of promised COVID-19 relief by amending the definition of “gross receipts” under the law to better reflect revenue available to support nonprofits amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


National Endowment for the Arts Update; Urge Congress to Pass $201 Million for FY2022 Appropriations

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) released the list of arts-related entities that received direct grants under its American Rescue Plan (ARP) emergency fund grantmaking. There are 567 organizations that received over $57.8 million, which represents only 7 percent of those entities who applied for such grant funding. The NEA received $135 million in emergency funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, enacted in March 2021. Through its emergency fund grantmaking, the NEA provided $52 million (40 percent) in ARP funding in April 2021 to 62 state, jurisdictional, and regional arts organizations for regranting purposes. The NEA provided over $20 million in November 2021 to 66 local arts agencies for sub-granting purposes to help support the arts and cultural sector during the current pandemic. The NEA also announced its first-round grantees for FY2022 under its Grants for Arts Projects grantmaking, Challenge America grantmaking, Literature Fellowships in creative writing and translation, and support for arts research projects. The NEA provided 1,498 awards totaling nearly $33.2 million. Deadlines are approaching for the next round of NEA grants under the Grants for Arts Projects Grant Program  (July 7) and Challenge America Grant Program (April 21).

OPERA America encourages its members, interested stakeholders, the opera community, and the overall arts and cultural sector to contact their federal elected officials to urge passage of an FY2022 omnibus appropriations package that provides a proposed $201 million for the NEA, as passed by the House back in July 2021. This proposed amount — $201 million — would be the highest level of funding ever for the federal agency since FY1992, when it was $176 million. The U.S. Senate is proposing $182.5 million for the NEA for the remainder of FY2022. Please note that the federal government is operating under a temporary funding bill that funds federal agencies at FY2021-enacted funding levels until February 18. The NEA is currently receiving its FY2021-enacted funding level of $167.5 million. Please use OPERA America’s current Action Alert to urge your federal elected officials to pass legislation that provides $201 million for the NEA.