EXCLUSIVE: More than 230,000 Californians employed in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors have filed unemployment insurance claims since the coronavirus pandemic struck in mid-March, according to the state’s Employment Development Department. This includes more than 65,000 industry workers in Los Angeles County, 30,000 in Orange County and 25,000 in San Diego County, which together account for half of the state’s unemployed in the sector that includes everyone from ticket-takers to movie stars.
Prior to the pandemic, an average of 730 workers in this sector applied for unemployment benefits during the first nine weeks of 2020. That more than doubled in the week ending March 14, and then shot up to nearly 9,500 claims by March 21. The next week, claims skyrocketed to more than 46,000. Since then, the number of initial claims has fallen steadily, though in recent weeks there’s been an uptick, averaging about 7,500 claims a week over the past two months.
With the film and TV industry still struggling to get restarted, jobless workers will be losing the $600 a week they’ve been receiving, in addition to their regular state unemployment benefits, under the CARES Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law March 27.
“The additional $600 federal stimulus payment automatically added by EDD to every week of Unemployment Insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits claimants receive was authorized by Congress through July 25 and, unless extended by the federal government, is scheduled to sunset at the end of next week,” an EDD spokesperson said Monday. “Also known as Pandemic Additional Compensation payments under the CARES Act, these benefits were authorized and paid for by the federal government and cannot be extended by the EDD without congressional action.
“For payments made for weeks of unemployment ending after July 25, claimants will only receive the maximum weekly benefit amount associated with their regular UI or PUA claim. Those weekly amounts range from $40-$450 a week for regular UI and from $167-$450 for PUA.
“For any recently filed claims or claims awaiting resolution, individuals will still receive the extra $600 federal stimulus payment beyond July 25 if the payments they receive were for weeks they spent unemployed or working reduced hours between March 29 and July 25. This assumes they meet all eligibility requirements.”
It will take an act of Congress, and the signature of the President, to extend these benefits.
Many in the industry’s unemployed workforce, meanwhile, have not been eligible to access full PUA benefits, which provide unemployment compensation to independent contractors, freelancers, gig workers and others not normally protected by state unemployment insurance benefits. However, workers who earn a living through a mix of independent and traditional W-2 jobs are currently excluded from PUA even if they have lost a substantial portion of their income due to coronavirus-related disruption of their independent work. Due to the sporadic and unpredictable nature of that work, many freelancers and self-employed workers in a wide variety of industries—and especially in music and entertainment— have been unable to access the benefits.
To remedy that, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) today introduced the Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act to ensure that workers who earn a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent (e.g., 1099) employment income are able to fully access the unemployment assistance provided in the CARES Act.
“For many workers, the relief provided by the CARES Act is making a crucial difference in helping make ends meet during this unprecedented period of disruption. Yet due to the nature of independent work, particularly in industries like entertainment, many workers are currently excluded from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance because they earn a living through a mix of self-employment and traditional W-2 jobs,” Schiff said. “Our bill will ensure that mixed earners are no longer excluded from this critical assistance because of the nature of their employment and income.”
Said Chu: “The coronavirus pandemic brought the economy to a halt for millions. Fortunately, we were able to quickly respond and through the CARES Act put support into the hands of workers who need it. But our traditional system of supporting unemployed workers was not set up for nontraditional workers with mixed income, like the many artists and craftspeople in my district who supplement a W-2 with independent gig work. There is no reason these workers should be penalized now for having a mixed income. I’m proud to work with my colleague Rep. Adam Schiff to make this common sense change to recognize the various ways our constituents earn a living and ensure they are rightly compensated for that during this crisis.”
The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act would ensure that mixed earners are able to access the same relief to make up for lost work that the CARES Act provided to those with more straightforward employment arrangements. Specifically, it would allow workers with substantial self-employment income to opt into the PUA program, which will enable mixed earners to receive unemployment benefits calculated based on their total earnings history from both wage and self-employment work.
“The entertainment industry is grappling with unprecedented job loss due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. As the industry works diligently to safely restart film and television production, entertainment workers are relying on unemployment benefits to feed and care for their families,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, championed by Adam Schiff and Judy Chu, corrects an unintended flaw in the CARES Act that resulted in affected performers receiving a fraction of the weekly benefits they are owed as taxpayers.”
“Union creative professionals were among the first affected by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact, and many will likely be among the last workers able to return safely to their jobs due to longer-term social distancing requirements,” said Jennifer Dorning, president of the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees. “It’s crucial that Congress not just maintain economic support for them and other workers, but also ensure that the programs are administered so that all creative professionals can receive the maximum possible support. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a critical lifeline for workers providing the basics for themselves and their families during this historic crisis that’s keeping them out of work.”
“The pandemic has exposed that our nation’s unemployment system is not designed for all workers, like music creators, leaving so many vulnerable and without assistance,” said Harvey Mason Jr., chairman and interim president and CEO of the Recording Academy. “The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act is a critical solution that will help so many in our community receive the fair benefits that they deserve. The Recording Academy thanks Representatives Adam Schiff and Judy Chu for their tireless efforts to ensure that all workers have equitable access to unemployment benefits as our creative community faces the long-term effects of this unprecedented crisis.”
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