In March, the Biden administration passed a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, promising to provide much-needed relief to debt-riddled students, restaurants, renters and homeowners, farmers and pensions, in addition to stimulus checks provided to millions of Americans.
Despite all this federal aid being handed out to millions of individuals and thousands of struggling businesses, many in the live events industry are still being left out in the fray, doing everything they can to make ends meet—and having a hard time with it. Many small businesses across the country have barely hung on through the past year, hit with unexpected revenue loss and facing the prospect of not making it to the end of the year.
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Associations representing many of those struggling businesses, including American Rental Association, Live Event Coalition, American Society of Travel Advisors, and International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, have since formed Economic Bridge Coalition (EBC), with the goal of working with Congress and the Biden administration to help with recovery and rehiring so they can once again get back to business.
“Our members are mostly family owned and bring jobs and economic activity to every part of the country. They have borrowed, used up savings, even mortgaged their homes to stay afloat, but many are about to lose everything,” says John McClelland, vice president of government affairs and chief economist of the American Rental Association. “The hard-working members of our coalition partners are facing the same bleak fates. That’s why we’ve joined together to ask for expansion of pandemic relief programs to those who have been left out.”
Before EBC became what it is, the 12 organizations that comprise it were working independently for months, advocating for legislation that would help their members. “The flurry of attention, including direct requests for meetings with EBC from key members of Congress, has been very noticeable since EBC announced our intentions, and has been net-helpful. We are now closer to having the ‘champions’ we need to get the next aid package passed,” says Dwayne Thomas, chairperson for government affairs for Live Events Coalition and president of Live Events Industry of Oregon.
Many large-scale travel industry players, such as airlines, some restaurants and theater venues, have received aid, and the coalition is asking Congress to expand coverage of these pandemic relief programs to small- and medium-sized businesses. “We believe the government has a responsibility to provide meaningful support to those businesses harmed by its response to Covid-19. Support provided to the travel industry has been uneven at best, especially with regard to less visible sectors of the industry, such as travel agencies,” says Eben Peck, executive vice president for Advocacy at the American Society of Travel Advisors. “Without additional federal relief, our industry faces the prospect of continued agency closures and mass layoffs.”
For many, this crisis has served as a learning platform. Thomas has used this opportunity to enlighten “literally thousands” over the past 14 months about the event industry’s mostly seamless and somewhat invisible operation that goes on behind the scenes. “We’ve created a lot of ‘aha moments’ for unsuspecting listeners in government these past months as we’ve educated them about what the industry really is,” Thomas says. “Almost no one we’ve talked to realized the industry is as large or diverse as it is. They had no idea that when you attend that charity gala, as many as 30 or more separate business entities were involved. The good news is this means we were doing our job all these years.”