UPDATE: The text of the massive, $2 trillion coronavirus relief package has just been released, in advance of expected Senate passage on Wednesday.
It contains a number of provisions designed to help the entertainment workforce, including workers with no traditional employer but who work as contractors and freelancers. The legislation expands the reach of unemployment benefits to include those impacted by the coronavirus shutdown, and adds an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits.
The legislation got some initial praise from some of the areas of the industry hit the hardest, including theatrical performers whose productions have been shuttered, and theater owners who have shut down their venues.
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Kate Shindle, the president of Actors Equity Association, said that she was “encouraged by the provisions of the new Senate bill, which will make it easier for arts professionals to get the unemployment assistance they need for work they had booked, but not yet started.”
The National Association of Theatre Owners said in a statement, “With this aid, movie theaters can get through this crisis confident in being able to re-open, knowing their vital, trained workforce is able to weather this pandemic and have jobs waiting for them when it is safe to reopen.”
The text is here.
Here’s a summary of some key elements:
Independent contractors and freelancers. There has been a lot of concern that the nature of employment in the industry — project by project — makes so much of the workforce ineligible for unemployment compensation. The bill specifically covers those who are self-employed, those who are seeking part-time employment, those who do not have sufficient work history or those who otherwise would not qualify for regular benefits.
A key provision for those in entertainment may cover future projects that got canceled because of the coronavirus. The bill specifies a worker who was “scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job and is unable to reach the job as a direct result” of the coronavirus.
The benefits will run for up to four months, and boost weekly aid by $600.
Small businesses. The bill includes $350 billion for small businesses (defined as 500 employees or less) to stave off layoffs and continue to pay their employees.
The bill provides eight weeks of federally guaranteed loans under a “paycheck protection program” to cover payroll and other costs for two months, with the loans turning into a grant if the payroll is maintained. The bill also includes tax credits and emergency grants, and a $17 billion fund for debt relief. It also includes a deferral of an employer’s payroll taxes.
NATO said that this will be a lifeline for “the vast majority of theater companies.”
Larger companies. The bill includes $500 billion for distressed industries, with loans and loan guarantees. An inspector general and oversight board will monitor the disbursement, and companies that take the funds are prohibited from doing stock buybacks during the time the loan is outstanding.
NATO said that the fund will allow “movie theaters and other businesses to pay their fixed costs while they are unable to generate revenue through normal operations.”
The legislation also includes certain tax provisions that will allow for more beneficial expensing of improvement costs and for loss carrybacks.
Public broadcasting and the arts. The bill provides $75 million each for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, designed to assist public stations and arts organizations. It also includes $25 million for the Kennedy Center.
Direct payments. Those who make $75,000 or less will be getting $1,200 “recovery rebate” checks (or direct deposit), in an effort to try to give immediate relief to struggling individuals and families. The payments would start to phase out for those making more than $75,000, and those making more than $99,000 would not qualify. Married couples will get $2,400, and families will get $500 for each child under 17.
Shindle said that Actors Equity and other entertainment unions advocated for the relief provisions.
“Our industry faces an unprecedented crisis, which threatens a powerful residual effect on related businesses where theatergoers spend money,” she said in a statement. “We have difficult times ahead, but we need everyone –– onstage, backstage, front-of-house and beyond — to remain engaged in our unions’ efforts. Only by doing so will we all emerge stronger on the other side.”
PREVIOUSLY: The text of the massive, $2 trillion coronavirus relief package reached early on Wednesday on Capitol Hill has yet to be released, but it is expected that it will address a major concern of the entertainment industry workforce.
So many employees — on film projects, TV shows, Broadway productions — work on a contract or freelance basis, and the fear has been that they would be overlooked in a final deal. Last week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and dozens of other House lawmakers urged House leaders to specifically address the needs of workers in the industry, including those whose future projects were canceled because of the coronavirus.
Unions and guilds are still waiting on the final text to be released before weighing in, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in a letter to the Democratic caucus, wrote that the package extends unemployment benefits to a much wider swath of workers. “It ensures that all workers are protected whether they work for businesses small, medium or large, along with self-employed and workers in the gig economy.” Many in the industry will be scrutinizing the exact language to see who is eligible.
He said that the bill includes “unemployment insurance on steroids,” increasing to maximum benefit that states can give by $600 per week and ensuring that “laid off workers, on average, will receive their full pay for four months.”
Movie theater owners have been especially hard hit, as small and large chains have been forced to shut down across the country. The National Association of Theater Owners had called for a series of measures to provide relief, including loan guarantee programs and small business interruption loans.
According to the Associated Press, the legislation includes a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making their payroll, staving off potential layoffs and furloughs.
The legislation also includes a $500 billion fund to extend loans and loan guarantees to distressed industries and corporations. It will be managed by the Treasury Department, but will be overseen by an inspector general and a five-member panel.
The businesses that receive the loans would be prohibited from making stock buybacks for the term of the assistance plus one year. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and the heads of executive departments would be prohibited from receiving the loans, Schumer said.
The package also includes direct payments to most Americans — $1,200 to those making $75,000 or less annually, according to recent tax returns. There will be a sliding scale for those who make more, capped at around $100,000.
The Senate returns to session at noon ET, and a vote is expected Wednesday afternoon.
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