Carper sets stage with ENCORES bill to support live entertainment venues

Sen. Thomas Carper, left, talks with Milton Theater Executive Director Fred Munzert Tuesday in Milton. (Submitted photo)

MILTON — Live entertainment venues look to get a boost, as Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., discussed his newly introduced bill at Milton Theatre on Monday, which will give live entertainment venues across the country a tax credit to make up for revenue lost to canceled shows amidst COVID-19.

The Entertainments New Credit Opportunity for Relief & Economic Sustainability (ENCORES) bill was introduced by Sen. Carper and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, to Congress on July 29. The bill has been assigned to the finance committee in the House of Representatives to await further discussion.

Sen. Carper said his love for the arts is what pushed him to create the ENCORES bill.

“I love music, I love live performance, it’s one of the joys of my life, and I think it’s one of the joys of a lot of people’s lives,” Sen. Carper said. “If we didn’t have music and the arts, we would be missing a whole lot. You don’t have to be in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, or LA to find great music. We have it here.”

The live entertainment industry has dealt with show cancellations, ticket refunds and strict health regulations since the spread of COVID-19, making it one of the hardest-hit industries by the pandemic thus far. Live entertainment simply does not exist in the same way since March, as they were one of the first industries to shut down and have faced many hardships in trying to reopen safely.

Milton Theatre Executive Director Fred Munzert spoke Monday about how COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on its staffing and revenue.

“On the 13th (of March), we shut down. It was just so emotional for us and everyone who worked here. (For) almost 30 employees and contractors, this was our life blood, our passion, our love, and for many, our mortgage payment, putting food on the table for our kids, all of those things,” Mr. Munzert said.

“We let everyone go. We had to. Our income stopped in a day. Then, the influx of calls for refunds. $150,000 almost immediately of requests for refunds came in. It was remarkable, the impact and terrifying.”

Milton Theatre is just one of many performance venues forced to completely shut down for weeks due to COVID-19. Even now that they’ve been permitted to open since Phase One, they face many restrictions on seating and capacity among other precautions.

Clear Space Theatre Company’s Director of Development and Outreach Stephanie Whitcomb said the proposed bill would make a significant difference for their theatre company along with countless others.

“This proposed bill has the potential to make a significant impact on theatres and other live entertainment venues. … Clear Space is fortunate enough to have the flexibility to adjust our seating and our procedures to create a COVID-19-safe venue, however we did this at a large loss. We will [continue] to lose a significant amount of revenue due to COVID this year and into the foreseeable future,” Ms. Whitcomb said in an email.

“Clear Space applauds Sen. Carper on a bill that recognizes the importance of helping those of us in live entertainment recoup the loss from COVID-19.”

Any live entertainment venue which has less than 500 employees is eligible for the tax credit, according to the proposed bill. To be considered eligible, the venue must have experienced show cancellations or postponements due to COVID-19 and must also demonstrate they attempted to offer a ticket voucher in place of ticket refunds to canceled shows.

The tax credit which eligible venues could receive would be an amount equal to 50% of any qualified ticket refunds between the dates of January 31st 2020 to the enactment date of the bill.

Prior to drafting the ENCORES bill, Sen. Carper said he and Sen. Tester sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asking them not to forget live entertainment venues in their COVID-19 relief plans. After getting 50 signatures on the letter quickly from both Democrats and Republicans, Sen. Carper knew there was a joint interest for passing an entertainment venue relief bill.

“So that was a letter, and almost like that, 50 senators signed it. It’s not every day you get half-Democrats and half-Republicans to sign something, but we did it,” Sen. Carper said. “The letter was a way to take people’s temperatures, to see if senators care about that, and it turns out they do. So then we introduced the legislation.”

The ENCORES bill is just the tip of the iceberg of COVID-19 relief legislation being considered by Congress. Last week, Democrats and Republicans came to a stalemate in their negotiations to pass another federal COVID-19 relief bill, which could offer additional unemployment benefits and funding to local and state governments.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s offer to lower Democrats’ demands in the legislation by $1 trillion was denied by the White House on Saturday.

Sen. Carper attributed the legislation’s lack of progress to President Donald Trump and Sen. McConnell’s lack of effort and attention to the issue.

“It’s strange because two of the key members in a negotiation like this are the president, and the president has been out playing golf this week. And the other person who’s key to this is the Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell, and it’s not that he’s checked out, but he’s just not engaged. Sen McConnell was basically saying ‘Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, this is your baby. Negotiate it with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer and see what you can come up with,’” Sen. Carper said. “It’s strange when you have a president and a Republican leader in the Senate who’s basically AWOL. I don’t get it.”

Despite the disagreements on relief legislation by both parties, Sen. Carper said he expects Congress to pass a relief bill eventually.

“I think we’ll eventually get there, but it won’t be easy. They say ‘sooner rather than later.’ Well, it might be later rather than sooner,” Sen. Carper said.

“But our side is very interested in getting there and bunch of Republicans in the Senate and House, they want an agreement, and I think we ought to be able to do that.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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