The Republican Senate majority unveiled another coronavirus relief package on Thursday that includes $1,200 direct payments for many individual taxpayers, loans to small and large businesses and delayed tax payments for corporations and employer payroll taxes.
The next step is for negotiations to start with Democrats, who have insisted that any new relief package include greatly expanded unemployment and Medicaid benefits, among other proposals.
The worry among many of those in entertainment — including guilds and union members and contract and gig workers — is that a $1 trillion-plus bill won’t take into account the specialized employment of the business. So many freelance and contract workers have seen projects canceled, series delayed and concerts sidelined in the wake of the pandemic. And unions say the relief package that President Donald Trump signed this week, providing emergency paid leave benefits, won’t apply to many displaced showbiz workers.
On Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and three dozen lawmakers sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, urging that they make provisions for the entertainment workforce.
“They’re every bit as deserving of a financial lifeline as anyone else in the country,” Schiff told Deadline. “And in some ways, we should be even more in debt because so many are finding solace and entertainment in watching their creative work product from home right now.”
Schiff spoke to Deadline about the prospects for securing such relief, the simmering liquidity crisis in the business, and why showbiz may have a receptive ear in the Trump administration.
DEADLINE: First off, the Senate GOP has unveiled its coronavirus relief proposal. Have you had a chance to look at it?
ADAM SCHIFF: I just saw the proposal for cash payments. I have some real concerns with how it is structured, and the fact that it looks like, from the first blush, that it would penalize poor people, who would get less under this proposal. I don’t see how that possibly makes any sense. But I’ve had only had a very cursory opportunity to look at it.
DEADLINE: Do you have any sense right now how many people are affected in the industry?
SCHIFF: Obviously, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industry that are going to be impacted to one degree or another. Many tens of thousands of people and perhaps more work from one contract to the next, and don’t have consistent employment in the sense of having a single employer that they work for year round, or predictable contracts. They go from one project to the next or one show to the next. And they’re every bit as deserving of a financial lifeline as anyone else in the country. And in some ways we should be even more in debt because so many are finding solace and entertainment in watching their creative work product from home right now.
DEADLINE: So it is not just that many industry workers are ineligible to receive emergency paid family leave or medical leave. It’s also those who are unemployed and the need to expand their benefits.
SCHIFF: Absolutely. Now in terms of unemployment, obviously there are millions and millions of people impacted. Unemployment claims have just jumped. We’ve taken some action already to extend unemployment. We’re going to have to do a lot more, when we have just undertaken a small down payment on the magnitude of the need over time. But I think we’re gonna have to take a range of actions from [paid] leave, to unemployment compensation; to fiscal stimulus in the form of cash payments; to low- interest or no- interest loans to small businesses to keep them afloat to help ride this out; to liquidity facilities to help some of the medium and larger businesses that are employing lots of people in the industry. So we’re going to need to really have a whole of government effort to keep people afloat until this is over.
DEADLINE: The GOP proposal calls for loans for small businesses and large corporations. Would you support an approach like that?
SCHIFF: I haven’t seen what they’re proposing in terms of loans, but loans certainly are going to have to be a part of this. In terms of support for big businesses, the president talks a lot about Boeing, for example, or the cruise lines. You know, we want to make sure that workers and families come first, that we don’t see the kind of profiteering that we did, where companies have promised to reward their workers when they were provided largesse, [but] instead gave themselves executive bonuses and engaged in stock buybacks. We just cannot afford to make those same mistakes all over again. So the relief that we provide needs to be targeted to those who need it to get by. And I think there will be a role for cash payments for individuals. There will be a role for tax incentives. There will be a role for loans. But our priority should be working people and small businesses first. And anything beyond that we need to build a lot of protections to make sure the nation’s resources aren’t squandered.
DEADLINE: Since you sent this letter, have you had a chance to talk to Speaker Pelosi about this concern about entertainment industry workers specifically?
SCHIFF: I have not had a chance to speak with her specifically about this. I have been speaking to my colleagues in Congress and working with my staff that have been interacting with the speaker’s staff. I’ve been interacting with her staff as well. As you might imagine, those that are working on the drafting of the next relief package are getting input from 435 different members.
DEADLINE: What about movie theaters that have shut down.
SCHIFF: I have talked with people who represent theater owners, and people in the industry, from workers to executives, to try to strategize about all those that are affected, and talk to friends whose family members are suddenly unemployed of work in theaters.
All of these public-facing companies and businesses are getting killed right now, whether it’s movie theaters, live theater, restaurants, bars. Anywhere that people congregate and enjoy being with each other is being decimated right now. And so we need to make sure that whatever relief we arrive at in this package or the next is fair and equitable to all, and doesn’t play favorites, but makes sure that people aren’t left out because their employment looks different than someone else’s.
DEADLINE: Is there a difficulty when it comes to entertainment, because so much of the public thinks, “Oh, celebrities on the red carpet. Why would they need relief?” They don’t necessarily think of the workers who you don’t see on screen.
SCHIFF: This is a perennial challenge that I’ve confronted, really for the last 25 years in advocating for my constituents to work in the industry, because the perception often in government is exactly that, that they’re all movie stars and recording artists and don’t need any help. This came up originally when we were confronting runaway production. And then it came up in the context of file sharing, IP theft. People couldn’t understand why we needed to worry about the pirating of movies, film and music and TV. So we’ve had to engage in that kind of educational effort all along. This I’m sure will be no different. People’s first impulse will be the think, “This is an industry that doesn’t need any help. These are people that don’t need the help.” What they don’t realize is the vast, vast majority of people who work in the industry are like most Americans, living paycheck to paycheck, and are going to be really hard hit by this.
DEADLINE: Will it help the industry’s case that the Treasury Secretary, Stephen Mnuchin, is a former film financier himself?
SCHIFF: I think it does help, because he has some idea of what the industry is composed of, and the liquidity crisis that the industry faces right now, as well as the crisis facing all the workers in the industry. So that should help. And he has been a person that we’ve been able to work with, even as the president can be very difficult to work with. So I think it will be beneficial to have somebody who understands the industry there.
DEADLINE: Is that also an issue, that you are leading this effort to highlight the need for industry workers? The president has been very critical of you personally.
SCHIFF: No, because this is an issue that will be negotiated by our leadership, and will a part of the package that we’re putting together. If this was a stand-alone bill, that might be a separate matter. But this is something that affects any number of House and Senate members from around the country. And I think, frankly, the primary interlocutor on this has been the Treasury Secretary, rather than the president in putting this package together.
DEADLINE: What types of stories have you been hearing from your constituents who work in the industry?
SCHIFF: People are really frightened right now in terms of their health and the health of their families, but also in their ability to make ends meet. They have got rent payments, they have got mortgage payments. They have food they need to buy, and suddenly their source of income has completely gone away. They don’t have a tremendous amount of savings, and so they’re I think feeling enormously vulnerable right now, and it’s important for them to know that there’s someone out there advocating for them.