In better times than these, Hollywood’s charities were a lifeline for thousands of industry workers in need of a little help just to get by. In 2020, that need exploded exponentially as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged lives, livelihoods and life savings.
Mary Pickford, who co-founded the Motion Picture & Television Fund nearly 100 years ago in the wake of another worldwide pandemic, could have been speaking for all of the industry’s charities when she said: “We see a need, and we fill it.” And that need is greater today than ever before. “When there is no income, there are still bills,” observed an actress who received financial assistance from the SAG-AFTRA Foundation early on in the coronavirus pandemic.
SAG-AFTRA Foundation Passes $6 Million In COVID-19 Relief Aid To Members In Need
Just how great the need has been – and remains – is evident in the historic number of folks asking for help, and the record-shattering level of assistance they’ve been provided by the industry’s major charitable organizations. Here are some key takeaways from a charitable year for the record books:
- In a typical year, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation grants about $400,000 in emergency assistance to around 300 SAG-AFTRA members in urgent need. Since March 16, the start of the industry-wide shutdown, it’s given out more than $6.1 million to over 6,500 SAG-AFTRA performers and their families.
- This year, The Actors Fund distributed more than nine times its yearly average in financial assistance to nearly 10 times the average number of yearly recipients. As of December 22, it had provided nearly $18.2 million in emergency financial assistance to 14,798 people in the performing arts and entertainment – more than $8.4 million in Actors Fund philanthropic funds and $9.7 million-plus from 17 partner funds it administers. This assistance has gone to people in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and to some international union members, as well.
- The Motion Picture & Television Fund provided social services support to nearly 9,000 industry members in 2020 – more than double the 4,176 people it helped last year. In years past, about 9% of MPTF’s support took the form of charitable financial assistance; this year, it was 61%.
- Broadway Cares distributed a record $18.1 million in grants in its fiscal year ending September 30 – a 22% increase from last year’s $14.8 million, which had been its previous annual record.
- Since April 1, the Pioneers Assistance Fund, which is operated by the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, has provided financial assistance to some 10,000 hard-hit theater workers – a 1,580% increase from 2018, which had been its record year. This year, it gave out $3.2 million, a 400% increase over 2018.
- The Entertainment Industry Foundation, along with its philanthropic partners, has granted more than $10 million in Covid-related responses to more than 100 organizations this year. “We’ve not seen this pace in fundraising for grassroots efforts in our nearly 80-year history,” said Nicole Sexton, EIF’s president and CEO.
SAG-AFTRA Foundation president Courtney B. Vance didn’t know what he was in for when he accepted the post in November 2019. Here’s what he told Deadline this week:
“When Covid-19 shuttered all productions and shut down our industry back in March, I must admit it was an enormous challenge to confront during my first few months as the new president of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation,” he told Deadline. “For 35 years, our Foundation had offered a safety net of emergency assistance, and free classes and workshops to SAG-AFTRA artists, but this was unlike anything the Foundation had ever faced. The game changed, and we knew this was no time for business as usual.
“When we launched our Covid-19 Relief Fund on March 16, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew thousands of my fellow SAG-AFTRA artists and their families would be facing life crises of all types–unable to pay for rent, groceries or other emergency expenses. However, I was uncertain how Hollywood would best meet the moment when everyone, everywhere was collectively struggling.
“Thankfully, I have had the privilege to lead a fundraising effort that showed me how much more we are than just an industry that prides itself on surprises and unpredictability. Together, we are a community that looks out for one another and takes care of our most vulnerable. Thanks to our dedicated staff and a growing network of major supporters, which includes members of our Actors’ Council and Entertainment Industry Council, industry leaders, peers, agencies, studios, and streamers, our Foundation was able to raise and grant more than $6.1 million in emergency financial assistance to over 6,500 SAG-AFTRA performers and their families facing hardship in 2020.
“Our partners at the Actors Fund distributed the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Covid-19 Relief Fund to the SAG-AFTRA community on our behalf, along with distributing several other industry relief funds. We are extremely grateful to have been part of this industry-wide effort to support our casts and crews who found themselves without paychecks, work and hope.
“Over 1,500 individuals and organizations stepped up to support our effort with donations large and small, and they all added up to make a real difference in the lives of thousands of working performers who found themselves with $0 in the bank. I have great confidence that our community will continue to help those who need it, and I’m so grateful to have the outpouring of help during this ongoing crisis.
“Giving back to my fellow artists through service is why I accepted this role initially, and it’s a responsibility that I’m so blessed to be sharing. We have done some great good in our own backyard this past year, and I’m looking forward to serving in 2021 to do even more.”
Founded in 1882, The Actors Fund is the entertainment industry’s oldest charitable organization. And despite its name, its assistance is available to everyone in show business. In the first nine months of 2020, it helped more than 30,000 industry workers though its programs and services – including more than 14,500 of them through emergency financial assistance. “So far this year, about 50,000 people have contributed to The Actors Fund,” said Joseph Benincasa, the Fund’s president and CEO. “While this is incredibly encouraging, we know that the need for support will be even greater in the coming months.”
The Actors Fund partners with 17 other industry organizations to distribute financial aid to those in need. As of December 22, here are the amounts distributed from three of its top partners who entrusted the Fund to help their members:
• SAG-AFTRA Foundation Covid-19 Relief Fund: $6,144,193
• Actors’ Equity Association: $874,500
• IATSE Local 600 Hardship Fund: $605,000
And here are the seven major donors to the Fund’s Covid-19 Relief efforts:
• Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS: $7.5 million for Covid-19 relief and $3.38 million for other program support, for a total of $10.88 million this year
• The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences: $2 million
• TikTok: $2 million
• Viacom/CBS: $2 million
• Netflix: $1.1 million
• Academy of Television Arts & Sciences: $1 million
• IATSE International: $1 million
You can donate to The Actors Fund here.
The Motion Picture & Television Fund was established in 1921, when it was known as the Motion Picture Relief Fund. “With the shutdown of our industry’s productions around the world in mid- to late-March, the need for assistance of all kinds for members of our community unable to earn a living, unable or unwilling to socialize in person with friends, and in many cases unable to secure food for their table, was great,” said MPTF president and CEO Bob Beitcher. “Financial assistance was an important part of stabilizing and sustaining our community and MPTF and other organizations were blessed by the generosity of industry members and institutions who stepped up with support. Some institutional support came in the form of helping out members of specific unions or guilds, and other support was more generally targeted at industry members who lost work as a result of the pandemic.”
The MPTF helps to administer relief efforts on behalf of several Hollywood guilds and unions, including a $1.25 million relief fund for IATSE members; a $300,000 fund for the Directors Guild Foundation; a $189,000 fund for Teamsters Local 399; and a $330,000 fund for the SAG-AFTRA Producers Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund. Each of those separate funds was created specifically for their members and now are fully distributed, or close to it.
MPTF also distributes a portion of ViacomCBS’ $100 million Covid relief fund. (Early on in the shutdown, Comcast announced it was setting up a whopping $500 million fund for its employees through continued pay and benefits where operations were paused or impacted by the pandemic. WarnerMedia pledged $100 million it assist its workforce.)
Netflix, meanwhile, established a $150 million Covid relief fund to help its own creative community impacted by the pandemic. MPTF administered $1.125 million of that fund, which has been fully distributed and exhausted.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences contributed $2 million to MPTF’s relief efforts, and Sony Pictures Entertainment contributed $1 million. Those funds still have reserves that MPTF anticipates will be utilized over time for industry members who will experience the ongoing impact of the pandemic, not only financially, but emotionally and mentally, as well. MPTF says that it is “critical to reserve a portion of these funds to provide assistance in 2021 and beyond.”
MPTF also administers a fund that provided emergency financial assistance for the staff on Westworld, which was established by the show’s creators, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, for needs created or complicated by the pandemic. MPTF also administered a fund that supported current and furloughed corporate employees of the Cast & Crew payroll company and its affiliates.
And the Comedy Store’s CEO Peter Shore partnered with MPTF to create The Comedy Store Family Fund to benefit the club’s employees and comedians by providing funding under a two-year grant. “This is a truly deeply hit community,” Beitcher said. In total, funding of over $300,000 has gone into this effort and has helped roughly 150 individuals with financial assistance and case management.
“Some of the Covid relief funds went into an overall MPTF Covid Relief Fund,” Beitcher said, “commingled with financial support from generous individuals in the community. Part of this fund was used to support campus activities and the majority went to industry workforce in the community.”
Each of these MPTF-administered funds had different guidelines for eligibility and their use. Some were directed specifically to guild members and others were targeted more broadly to the workforce of the film and television community who were put out of work by the pandemic. Overall, the grants of financial assistance were for $1,000; some grants were paid directly to industry members or to third parties on their behalf. Most of the funds had eligibility requirements that included some kind of means-testing – a determination that those seeking assistance did not already have sufficient funds to keep things going. Some funds were targeted specifically to members of the guilds that provided the funding. In other cases, MPTF says, “They were geography-bound, and MPTF shared the country with the Actors Fund. Typically, MPTF would work with California-based industry members and The Actors Fund with all others.”
“We felt very blessed to be the steward of these relief funds and recognize the trust our industry partners place in MPTF, which has been there for them in Hollywood for nearly 100 years,” Beitcher said.
“Each of the nearly 6,000 applicants for Covid financial relief have received multiple phone calls from MPTF social workers, and many of them are now receiving case management, referrals, and supportive counseling,” he said. “This approach distinguishes MPTF from other relief organizations, but is a key hallmark of MPTF’s philosophy and approach. Yes, they can provide financial assistance to pay your rent, mortgage, utility bill, car payment, or health insurance premium, but much more than that, MPTF wants to provide you with the tools to survive financially, emotionally, and mentally over a long pandemic period. Despite the intensity of the work for its social service staff over the past 9 months – which has taken its own toll on their personal situations – they all report that this has been the most rewarding experience of their professional careers.”
Roughly 40% of those industry members who initially reached out to MPTF through its hotline were served with financial grants. Some received assistance from other organizations, and MPTF says it is committed to not doubling up on assistance. Other applicants weren’t eligible either because of means-testing or work history, and still others weren’t willing to share the financial information required to confirm eligibility.
In most cases, these funds have either been exhausted or will be soon when grants still in the works are distributed. “There should be sufficient reserves in the event that production is required to shut down again,” Beitcher said. “Some remaining funding will go toward ongoing financial assistance to industry members who have suffered more permanent hardships related to Covid – some related to financial health, some to physical health, and some to mental health. The pandemic will have a long tail of damage to our industry workforce and many others.”
You can donate to the MPTF here.
You can request its assistance here.
In addition to financial assistance, the MPTF and The Actors Fund also provide a wide range of services and programs. “Support of our industry members does not stop with providing financial assistance through grants,” Beitcher said. “In fact, in many cases, the problems of our industry workforce are much broader and deeper and not easily solved. We have industry members who are caregivers to parents or disabled children who either can’t go back to work or are totally stressed out about working under Covid protections, especially when they see positives turning up randomly on sets. We have industry members who got through the pandemic thanks to financial grants, savings, and other support, but have been financially devastated, and are now looking at the end of mortgage forbearance, rent forbearance, student loan forbearance, and pondering how they can ever dig themselves out of the hole. If you’re close to the end of your working career, this may never happen, so MPTF is looking at case management and financial support down the road for a large number of industry members.
“While helping with financial grants is critically important, and MPTF is so grateful to all those organizations that stepped up to provide funding, they’ve also provided a multitude of social services to the community,” he added. “MPTF looks at our industry members through the ‘whole person’ lens, their needs during the pandemic, and even now we’re more focused on issues around stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and social isolation. As a result, MPTF social workers made more than 20,000 ‘check-in’ calls in the last nine months to not only provide a friendly and caring voice, but also to assess other needs for our industry members and guidance for help.”
“Food insecurity has been another major issue during the pandemic,” he said, noting that MPTF has delivered almost 1,000 bags of groceries to roughly 200 industry members. It’s also helped distribute 30,000 meals, funded by Amazon Studios and prepared by Jon & Vinny’s, to their weekly grocery clients, their staff, and to the IATSE Food Drive. And by the end of the year, MPTF will have also received and distributed over 3,000 birthday and holiday cards – written and decorated by volunteers who work at studios, guilds, locals, talent agencies, film schools, and junior volunteers – that are being sent to industry members to help cheer them up in these difficult times.
MPTF’s Daily Call Sheet program, also known as its “friendship” call program, grew to 130 volunteers making calls to other industry members during the pandemic. To date, it has made 8,000 calls. MPTF’s Care Calls program, another volunteer calling program with industry members calling other working or retired industry members, has made an additional 9,000 calls since the start of the pandemic.
The MPTF’s Insurance Services Program helps those who have lost or about to lose their health insurance. “Most of the guilds were incredibly generous in terms of extending health insurance benefits to members during the pandemic, recognizing that hours and earnings weren’t possible to accumulate when the entire industry was out of work,” Beitcher said. “MPTF will have served the health insurance needs of roughly 1,500 industry members in 2020 through Entertainment Health Insurance Solutions. Of that number, roughly 500 will be California-based SAG-AFTRA seniors who are losing their guild-based health insurance and another 250 SAG-AFTRA seniors outside of California with the same issue. For most of those California-based, MPTF was able to bring together UCLA Health and Blue Shield to include the Entertainment Industry Medical Group in the Medicare Advantage program.”
The Actors Fund’s Every Artist Insured campaign also helps industry workers find and obtain health insurance. “At a time when so much was uncertain, The Fund knew we had to be a source of support, comfort, guidance and stability for the performing arts and entertainment community,” Benincasa said. “This is especially true regarding health insurance, as people have lost coverage via their unions/employers. We launched the Every Artist Insured campaign to expand our health insurance counseling and enrollment services.”
The Actors Fund also has launched Covid-specific workshops and support groups to help industry members navigate through these uncertain times. These include “How to Job Search During a Pandemic,” “Managing Student Loans Amid Covid-19,” “Every Artist Insured: Getting Affordable Coverage During Covid-19,” Navigating Housing Court, Evictions and Tenant Rights During Covid-19” and “Support Group for Entertainment Professionals.”
“In March 2020, within days of Broadway, live performances, TV and film sets shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Actors Fund quickly transitioned our emergency financial assistance application and almost all of our programs to online and phone services,” Benincasa said. Those workshops and services cover health and health insurance, housing, financial wellness, a Career Center and social services that include mental health services.
“Despite the hardships of not being able to come together in person for our daily workshops, groups and seminars,” he said, “the switch to online meetings has offered a silver lining. Because they are digital, professionals in the performing arts can join from anywhere in the country. Our services have become nationally available in a way that wasn’t possible before, and we’ve been able to connect with members of our community, no matter where they live or have relocated due to the pandemic.”
The Actors Fund and the MPTF also run their own retirement villages – the Actors Fund Home in New Jersey and the MPTF retirement home and skilled nursing facility in Woodland Hills, CA. Both were hard hit in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic but are in good shape now. The MPTF’s home saw six residents die from the virus, but had no infections among its 240 retirees since April, until a resident came down with the virus the day after Thanksgiving. The Actors Fund Home, which saw the deaths of 10 residents in the early days of the pandemic, reports that none of its 140 residents has tested positive since April 21.
“We are Covid-free at The Actors Fund Home,” Benincasa said. “We begin vaccinations during the week of January 4. Walgreens is the provider and we are using the Pfizer vaccine. Residents and staff have begun preparing families and staff, and we will be vaccinating over several days.”
The Actors Fund also operates affordable-housing residences in Manhattan, Brooklyn and West Hollywood, which provide quality housing for seniors, people with disabilities and working arts professionals. The Fund recently completed a $10.4 million renovation of The Palm View Residence, which hasn’t seen a single case of Covid-19 infection.
In partnership with Mount Sinai Doctors, the Fund also operates the Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, which offers primary and specialty care for New York City’s entertainment and performing arts community.
Broadway Cares was founded in February 1988 by members of The Producers’ Group. Money raised was awarded to AIDS service organizations nationwide, including Equity Fights AIDS. In May 1992, Equity Fights AIDS and Broadway Cares merged to become Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Through September 30, the end of its fiscal year, Broadway Cares distributed a record $18.1 million in grants – up from last year’s $14.8 million, which had been the previous annual record. The December 10 broadcast of NBC’s One Night Only: The Best of Broadway, a fundraiser hosted by Tina Fey that raised over $3 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
“On March 17, 2020, just days into Broadway’s shutdown, Broadway Cares launched its Covid-19 Emergency Assistance Fund, with an initial $250,000,” the organization said. “The fund, administered by The Actors Fund, ensures thousands who work in theater and the performing arts receive lifesaving support during and after this devastating pandemic. Within a week, more than 20 Broadway producers offered a $1 million challenge match to double the impact of donations to the fund. When that initial match was met, another group of producers, inspired by the first, offered a second $1 million match. In May, entertainment icon Bette Midler personally matched donations to the emergency fund up to $100,000.”
To date, its Covid-19 Emergency Assistance Fund has provided $6.5 million to The Actors Fund, with an additional $1 million to be shared with The Actors Fund to launch the Fund’s Every Artist Insured program, expanding on The Actors Fund’s free and confidential health insurance counseling and enrollment support services.
These pandemic-specific grants were in addition to its annual support of a safety net of social services provided by The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and The Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts. In total, Broadway Cares awarded $11.2 million to The Actors Fund in fiscal year 2020 – up from $6.2 million in 2019.
You can donate to Broadway Cares here.
As theaters closed across the country, The Pioneers Assistance Fund has helped more than 8,000 movie theater workers with nearly $3 million in grants during the pandemic. The fund is part of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, which is chaired by Chris Aronson, Paramount’s president of distribution, and named in honor of Will Rogers, the legendary humorist, actor and real-life cowboy, who once said that “The best way out of difficulty, is through it.”
The overwhelming majority of financial assistance disbursed by the Pioneers Assistance Fund during the pandemic goes to help ticket-takers, concession workers, projectionists and ushers who work, or formerly worked, at movie theaters across America — from small, family-owned theaters to the major chains. Phase 1 of the program distributed some $2 million in $300 stipends to furloughed theater workers early on in the pandemic to help with their basic household needs until they started receiving unemployment benefits. Under Phase 2, another $1 million was given out based on need, with grants ranging from $300 to as much as $2,600, with 90% of those who received grants having worked as assistant managers and general managers who have been on reduced pay (30%-50%) since April. Many of them have now been furloughed without pay.
“We are helping more people than we ever thought possible and we’re not finished yet,” Aronson said. “The pandemic has challenged the Pioneers Assistance Fund, but we are committed to providing financial assistance to our dynamic workers and their families who have endured enormous hardship. We are grateful for the generous contributions and incredible support from our industry that helped us establish the emergency fund. It has allowed us to provide more than $3 million in relief grants to members of the motion picture distribution and exhibition community. Our reserves were set aside for a rainy day and, in this unprecedented time of need, the leadership at Will Rogers did not hesitate to utilize the funds. While it is our hope that the new federal relief program will address the looming housing crisis, the Pioneers Assistance Fund will continue to help as many industry workers as it can to keep a roof over their heads.”
Founded in 1943, the goal of the Entertainment Industry Foundation is to “raise public awareness around critical social issues and raise funds to support selected charities.” Along with its philanthropic partners, it has granted more than $10 million in Covid-related responses to more than 100 organizations this year. “By mobilizing and leveraging the powerful voice and creative talents of the entertainment industry, as well as cultivating the support of organizations (public and private) and philanthropists committed to social responsibility,” EIF says that it “builds awareness and raises funds, developing and enhancing programs on the local, national and global level that facilitate positive social change.”
In May, EIF, XQ Institute and the LeBron James Family Foundation co-hosted Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020, a one-hour special that aired on CNN that drew more than 20 million viewers. With 46 broadcast partners, the show featured appearances by President Barack Obama, LeBron James, Bad Bunny, the Platt Brothers, Yara Shahidi, H.E.R., Jonas Brothers, Lena Waithe and Malala Yousefzai, among many others.
“Graduate Together marked just one of EIF’s efforts that addressed the profound and devastating effects of Covid-19,” the organization said, noting that it had also launched a fund to aid entertainment workers financially who were affected by the virus, and is supporting additional efforts generated by fund partners Charlize Theron (Together for Her, created to support women affected by domestic violence); Kevin Love (a collaboration with Headspace to support mental wellness); #FirstRespondersFirst (an initiative of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global and the CAA Foundation); Misty Copeland (Swans for Relief, created to raise needed funds to help ballet dancers around the world maintain their living expenses); Colin Kaepernick (Know Your Rights Camp supporting black and brown communities disproportionately affected by the virus); G-Eazy (Endless Summer Fund), and Cher’s CherCares Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative, which is focused on the “chronically neglected and forgotten” people during the pandemic.
In addition to its Covid-related efforts, EIF says that “50% of our fund partners have also mounted social justice efforts this year. In so many ways, it has been a remarkable 2020.”