House And Senate Pass Massive Covid-19 And Government Spending Package: What’s In It For Showbiz

(Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

UPDATE, 8:45 PM PT: The Senate passed a $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief package and government spending bill, with a host of provisions sought by different sectors of the entertainment industry including aid to movie theaters and live venues including Broadway.

The Senate passed the massive package, 91-7.

The bill next will go to President Donald Trump for his signature.

John Fithian, the president of the National Association of Theaters Owners, said that the legislation “means that the vast majority of small and mid-size U.S. movie theaters and their employees will have the resources to make it through to the end of that tunnel. We urge its immediate implementation.”

He said that without the assistance, 70% of the midsize and smaller venues would file for bankruptcy or close. But he said that they are continuing to seek government help for larger theater chains.

The bill includes a wide range of provisions that go beyond Covid-19 relief and government appropriation. It includes a new law that will make it a felony to operate an illegal streaming service, and another that establishes a small claims panel to adjudicate copyright claims.

PREVIOUSLY: The House passed a massive $2.3 trillion Covid-19 relief and government spending package that includes a series of provisions meant to be a lifeline to hard-hit sectors of the entertainment industry.

The package — $900 billion in Covid-19 relief and $1.4 trillion in government funding — was approved overwhelmingly, just hours after the 5,000-plus pages of legislation was released. It now heads to the Senate.

Of perhaps greatest interest to the industry is the inclusion of $15 billion in aid specifically for movie theaters and live performance venues, targeted at operators, promoters and agents who have seen their revenue dry up as the pandemic forced the closure of public spaces or severely limited capacity.

The bill also addresses some of what earlier Covid-19 relief packages missed, including expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits for workers who have a mix of traditional and freelance employment income. That classification includes a number of music and entertainment industry workers. SAG-AFTRA and the Recording Academy advocated for those types of workers to be included.

“I know from my constituents and how many I have heard from that it will have a big impact on the Los Angeles area, and I know that there are other cities where it will have a disproportionate impact as well,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who along with Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) championed the provision,

Here’s a rundown of some of the provisions:

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. Just as important to those in the entertainment industry is that freelancers, gig workers, contractors and those with mixed incomes will be eligible for the benefits.

Schiff said that the Covid-19 crisis “opened our eyes to just how many people are working outside of the traditional W-2 economy, and we’re going to need to figure out both how to make sure such workers are protected in the future, but also to make sure the system is funded so there is a revenue stream for those that will be using this form of unemployment insurance.”

Save Our Stages: The provisions would be targeted to small- and medium-sized theaters and venues with 500 employees or less, and 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. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-CA) introduced the legislation in July, and it originally was targeted to live entertainment venues. It was expanded in October to include movie theaters.

Rent payment assistance: The legislation sets aside $25 billion for families to help pay rent, and extends a moratorium on evictions.

Employee retention credit: The bill extends of credits for businesses, including large ones like 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.

Film and TV tax incentive: A federal tax incentive for movie and TV productions is renewed. It allows producers to expense up to $15 million in production costs in the year they are incurred, rather than writing them off via depreciation. The extension is for five more years, through Dec. 31, 2025. That is significant in that Congress has typically renewed the provision on a year-by-year basis, sometimes doing so retroactively.

Local media loans: Newspapers, TV stations and radio stations that are part of larger media companies would be eligible for Paycheck Protection Program loans. They would be limited to individual outlets.

PSA campaign: Government agencies are encouraged to direct public awareness campaign ad dollars to local media, including a $75 million effort to boost confidence in the Covid-19 vaccine.

The House passed the legislation in two parts, with the votes 327-85 and 359-53.

The legislation also includes long-sought copyright legislation, including a provision that makes the operation of illegal streaming services a felony.

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