ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer visited the Bug Jar in Rochester Wednesday to say “help is on the way” for small businesses and entertainment venues.
Schumer was joined by Bug Jar owner Aaron Gibalski, local business owner Deondra Dukes and CEO of the Children’s Agenda Larry Marx to discuss details of the American Rescue Plan and the Save Our Stages Fund.
“Help is on the way — for our live and independent venues, which have suffered,” Sen. Schumer said. “The arts is a major part of the Rochester economy and yet they were all closed. Any industry where people gathered together always created problems during COVID. Now they will be under the Save Our Stages grant — a six-month grant, so all the arts venues here in the Rochester are can survive, and god willing by September when these grants expire, and some expire in January — we will have beaten COVID and the Bug Jar will be back in business.”
“No one is quite touring yet, but once that gets going, we’re going to move fast as humanly possible and get it back going,” Gibalski said. “We have a lot of local talent that’s just itching to perform.”
Schumer outlined details of changes to the Save Our Stages fund, which is designed to improve access to funds for independent live venues, performing arts organizations, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions struggling to stay afloat.
“The Bug Jar is an iconic place here in Rochester,” Sen. Schumer said. “It brings people to downtown, the arts are so important to us here. It’s a really famous place, but without this program this place would have gone out of business. It probably couldn’t have lasted another couple of months. What this program, this Save Our Stages program does, is give Larry and all our other independent arts and venues a grant for up to six months to pay their expenses. The PPP program didn’t work so well for them because you had to have employees and they didn’t have employees.”
The Senate Majority Leader referenced a community effort to save the iconic venue, where a GoFundMe for the Bug Jar raised more than $23,000 since last year, but he says this grant program will help the Bug Jar even more.
Since 1991, the Bug Jar has been a mainstay in the Rochester music scene, giving many local bands their first chance on stage, as well as hosting major touring acts such as The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Mac Demarco, and many, many more for nearly 30 years.
The senator said Save our Stages is vital to the Bug Jar and so many other Rochester venues like Abilene Bar & Lounger, Geva Theater, Comedy at the Carlson, Rochester Broadway Theater League’s Auditorium Theater, and movie houses like the Little Theater, the Strand in Brockport, plus so many more.
The Bug Jar hasn’t been open since the pandemic and shutdowns hit.
“Almost every regulation that’s come about through this whole thing… We’ve checked basically every box, as it happened,” Gibalski said. “Limited occupancy, serving food, cocktails.. Just all of them, really.”
He also discussed what this funding means to him.
“It’ll basically stretch us out a little more until what we’re all assuming will everyone being vaccinated, things will be open, things will be back to normal, and it will buy us that time to get open again,” he added.
The senator’s office provided a breakdown of how the six month grants of Save our Stages work:
Each grant amounts equal to 45% of gross revenue in 2019 for the venue, up to $10 million, can be used for various costs, including payroll, rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, payments to contractors, regular maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases, PPE procurement, and capital expenditures related to meeting state, local, or federal social distancing guidelines. To ensure the hardest hit of eligible applicants receive assistance, there are two priority application periods. The first 14 days, only eligible entities that have lost more than 90% of gross revenue can apply. The next 14 days, only eligible entities that have lost more than 70% can apply. A reserve of 20% of overall appropriated funds, $3 billion out of the $15 billion provided, will remain available for all other eligible entities to apply for after 28 days. There is a $2 billion set-aside of funds for eligible entities with 50 or fewer employees to ensure smaller applicants are not left out.
Rochester Fringe Festival Producer Erica Fee said that this plan will ultimately allow venues to actually plan, and to eventually have quality programming when it’s allowed. However, she was critical of the metered approach that Save Our Stages takes.
“I don’t love the metered way… The metered situation as a few loopholes,” Fee said. “But what I do hope and that I hope Sen, Schumer is leading on, is to have enough funding for Save our Stages. There’s been talk that once we get to the second and third stage of Save our Stages, that the funding is going to run out, and therefore the big boys like Lincoln Center will receive the funding, and a lot of smaller arts organizations won’t.
“What happened here at the Bug Jar is fans took up a collection to save the Bug Jar, and it did for a while, but COVID went on too long,” Sen. Schumer said. “Monroe County will get $143 million over the next two years, Rochester gets $206 million.”
The American Rescue Plan also includes an additional round of direct stimulus checks that have already started going out, aid to help schools reopen, an expansion of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, new rental assistance, pension relief for thousands of retirees, and more.
“We have many many kids in poverty in the Rochester, Finger Lakes area in New York state,” Sen. Schumer said. “There are 680,000 in the state who will be lifted above the poverty line, but for Rochester, which ranks one of the highest in the United States for child poverty, 48% will be lifted above the poverty line. Our schools — Rochester and Finger Lakes will get $404 million to get the schools open safely and quickly and to open up summer schools, and our colleges, both private and public, will get $163 million.”
“I’m truly grateful to be before you all today,” Dukes said. “I’m so excited that this child tax credit has been passed because it’s helping so many people in my community. For me personally I have been going through the home-buying process and have those additional funds to provide a better future for my son has been a real blessing to me. My son also needs to have access to quality education that will help challenge him and put him in extracurricular activities that I haven’t been able to afford.”
“There will be an effort to make it [child tax credit] permanent because it’s such a revolutionary change,” Sen Schumer said.
The Senate Majority Leader said the relief package also helped New York state.
“There is no longer a deficit at the state level because of the federal money,” Sen. Schumer said. “The deficit was $5 billion 1 year, $10 billion next year and we got them $12.5 billion directly, and indirectly another $10 billion.”
Even with the relief, the senator said he would like to see SALT repealed.
“I very much would like to see that SALT cap eliminated,” Sen. Schumer said. “It was a dagger in the heart of New York and a few other states and it is something that I will fight to make happen.”
Regarding the Wednesday morning’s legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana in New York state, the senator said there is momentum at the federal level to decriminalize.
“There is an effort to introduce legislation that would decriminalize marijuana federally, which means let every state to whatever they want and the federal government will not intervene and I support that,” Sen. Schumer said. “The federal government still lists marijuana as a very, very high felony. It’s outdated — as high as cocaine, as high as heroin, that’s still on the books. So our law would remove that and reduce that and decriminalize that.”