Senate and House leaders announced an agreement on a nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package on Sunday that includes specific aid to struggling independent movie theaters and live entertainment venues.
The package allocates $15 billion for theaters and other cultural institutions, following months in which artists and entertainment industry trade groups expressed urgency for some kind of targeted relief, proposing legislation called the Save Our Stages Act. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the aid was included in the final agreement.
The Save Our Stages Act would be targeted to small- and medium- sized theaters and venues with 500 employees or less, and to those that lost at least 25% in revenue. It applies to multiple aspects of the live and theatrical business, including venue operators, promoters, producers, performing arts organizations, museum operators and talent representatives.
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The text of the legislation has not yet been released. The House is expected to vote on the bill on Monday and the Senate will follow not too long after that.
Pelosi and Schumer also said that the relief bill will include provisions so that a wider scope of newspapers, TV stations and radio stations will be eligible for Paycheck Protection Program loans. That relief is aimed at smaller businesses, but a number of media outlets did not qualify because they are part of larger media companies. The bill is expected to include language to provide such loans to individual media outlets but not to their parent companies.
The Paycheck Protection Program, meanwhile, will be replenished with an additional $284 billion for first and second loans, which will be forgivable if recipients meet a set of requirements for how the money is spent. Dozens of producers, law firms, publicity shops, post-production houses and other entertainments firms received loans in the first round last spring.
In addition to the Save Our Stages Act and funding for vaccine distribution, other elements of the relief package include:
Direct payments. Up to $600 per person will be provided, an amount that is about half the size of payments sent out earlier this year. Those who make up to $75,000 per year will be eligible for the full payments, and those who make about $99,000 would not be eligible.
Unemployment insurance. Those out of work will be eligible for enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week on top of the typical level offered by states, for a total of 11 additional weeks. That sum is half the $600 per week that was included in the CARES Act, the relief bill passed in March. The legislation extends a program that was passed in March, when a wider scope of workers was eligible, including freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors. That was set to expire at the end of the year.
Rent payment assistance: The legislation sets aside $25 billion for families to help pay rent, and extends a moratorium on evictions.
Employee retention credit: An extension of credits for businesses, including large studios, for retaining employees. The initial credit included a maximum credit of $5,000, and was available to companies that saw their operations suspended because of COVID-19 governmental orders, or experienced a significant decline in gross receipts.
Broadband access: Provides $7 billion to increase broadband access. The money includes assistance to help low income and unemployed workers pay for internet service.
Congress is expected to vote on the proposal either later on Sunday or on Monday. The House passed a $3.4 trillion bill in May, and then a scaled down, $2.2 trillion version in October, but negotiations remained at an impasse until this month. That is when a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a smaller package that, in the end, did not include liability protections, which Republicans wanted, and massive aid to state and local governments, which Democrats sought.
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