EXCLUSIVE: In a collective effort to help the growing legion of Hollywood folks who’ve been abruptly furloughed or fired because of the COVID-19 epidemic, Legendary Entertainment has joined forces with the pro bono legal collective Public Counsel to launch an assistance program designed to help get their unemployment benefits as quickly as possible, and keep them from being rejected over improperly filled-out forms.
It is one of two current initiatives taken by Legendary. The company is separately underwriting a program to house LAPD officers infected with COVID-19 to provide shelter at a downtown Los Angeles hotel so they are appropriately quarantined from their families while they recover.
As for the Public Counsel initiative: filing an unemployment claim is a jarring emotional experience for most, and many who’ve been temporarily or permanently laid off through no fault of their own, might be doing it for the first time. There has been an expansion of those eligible for benefits, including “gig” workers and independent contractors. With unemployment claims soaring to record levels — 6.6. million claims filed last week — the system is overwhelmed. Unless you fill out the forms exactly right, there is a good chance that your filing will be rejected. That can set back for weeks getting much needed financial relief at a time when finding a new job is nearly impossible.
That’s where Public Counsel comes in with Helping Entertainment Labor and Professionals (HELP), the new program underwritten by Legendary. HELP will provide a free legal assistance program for displaced entertainment workers of every stripe designed to help them correctly fill out those forms and tap into whatever funds are due them under the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act. You can be a production exec, an assistant, a secretary or even a trade journalist, and the service will help you get the money that will help feed your family and pay your mortgage. HELP starts with a series of free webinars launching next week, with backup from Public Counsel’s pro bono lawyers when needed.
It is the brainchild of Legendary Entertainment CEO Joshua Grode, after he was called by friends whose kids found themselves laid off and utterly confused by the very complex set of forms one needs to complete to get unemployment benefits.
“My friends said, you’re a lawyer, walk us through this, and after the third call…you’d think filling out a form is simple, but I found out quickly it is really complicated and there’s no resource out there for anyone to provide help for people who’ve been working at a company in the entertainment business. Including below or above the line, or an executive or a person high up the ladder who might be applying for the first time in their careers,” Grode told Deadline. “It became evident that creating something that could help people broadly in our business was important. I’d been involved with Public Counsel before, and I realized this was exactly what they were set up to do, provide legal support to a whole class of people, with the ability to bring in hundreds of lawyers if needed. I said we would underwrite the program you put in place, to help educate and guide people through a very scary, stressful time, and if there is in fact the case that if you make a mistake on your application that you’re rejected and knocked out for a period of time, it’s even more critical that you get it right. They jumped at it.”
The website is now live, so names can be collected to be informed of webinars that will get underway next week.
Public Counsel president/CEO Margaret Morrow said the goal is to demystify what is already a most stressful moment.
“With these systems, if you make a mistake, you can get denied and have to start all over again,” Morrow said. “Because they’re urging online applications, it stands to reason that a mistake will delay you. The EDD for years had a system for unemployment insurance for people who were laid off or fired. Now, the federal government, in an effort to get money to people quickly who desperately need it, has expanded the category of people to include gig workers and independent contractors. But go on the EDD website, you are not going to see anything about that, yet. So you will read it and think, ‘I wasn’t a full time employee, I’m an independent contractor, I can’t apply.’ Or, your paperwork is inconsistent with old EDD rules, and you get denied.”
She said that the gig workers or independent contracts who’ve worked in several states, or who might not have their information at the ready, can easily feel hamstrung by the complexity of the forms.
“You go to the EDD website to look for the application form, and it’s 12 pages long and you have to have all this information collected and ready to submit to verify your claim,” she said. “It’s very complicated at this moment because of the eligibility expansion of categories of people. On top of that, unless you are a really good record keeper, finding your 2019 or 2018 information might put you in for a rough time. Those who’ve worked multiple productions over the year, in different states, that’s going to be an exercise. We at Public Counsel have known and worked with Josh for years, and we’re glad he reached out to us for an assist.
“The entertainment industry is at core of the Los Angeles economy and community, and lot of these people are hurting and without resources,” Morrow said. “Those are situations we deal with every day, and we’re delighted to help.”
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