In a blow to pandemic-battered theaters and event spaces that have been waiting more than a year for federal aid, the Small Business Administration has temporarily halted a grant program that was expected to begin the process of disbursing $16 billion in relief funds yesterday due to technical difficulties with its online portal.
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, or SVOG, was authorized with the December stimulus package after thousands of venue owners rallied to convince lawmakers that existing coronavirus relief programs were not suiting their needs. The program allows venues—including performing arts spaces, movie theaters, museums, and other event spaces—to apply for grants of up to $10 million. The portal was supposed to begin accepting applications at noon on Thursday, but it quickly became apparent to would-be applicants that something was amiss.
In a tweet, the SBA said, “After launching the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal, technical issues arose despite multiple successful tests. After working with our vendors to address the issues, the portal was shut down to ensure fair and equal access once it is reopened.” Applicants may still continue to register for new accounts while the issues is being addressed.
Reached for further comment, an SBA spokesperson referred Fast Company to its latest update in which it said the technical issue has been identified. It has not yet provided a timeline for when the issue might be resolved. The spokesperson said the portal was shut down to “ensure fair and equal access . . . since this is first come first serve. This decision was not made lightly as we understand the need to get relief quickly to this hard-hit industry.”
This is not the first time that a federal relief effort for people impacted by COVID-19 has been snarled by technical problems. Last year, the SBA was criticized by lawmakers after the rollout of an emergency grant program aimed at small businesses proved especially messy and plagued with glitches.
This post has been updated with the SBA’s response.