Washington – In its latest response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, Congress has passed a third package of emergency relief legislation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security “CARES” Act. This bill will provide tangible and immediate economic relief for entertainment workers across the United States, many of whom found themselves out of work overnight due to COVID-19 related cancellations across all sectors of the entertainment industry.
Entertainment freelance, or gig, workers who expected to work for a day, week, month, or season on a production are now without planned wages and benefits indefinitely. Current state unemployment insurance benefits tend to be insufficient for entertainment workers, and many are not eligible for the paid leave expansion in the newly passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act because of the unique nature of freelance work.
IATSE members and allies sent over 107,000 letters to Congress urging lawmakers to include displaced entertainment workers in the next legislative relief package, and our voices were heard. IATSE commends Congress for expanding access to economic support for loss of work related to COVID-19.
The CARES Act contains the following key provisions:
- Creates a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to provide payment to those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus public health emergency. This includes entertainment workers with limited work history and scheduled, or offered, work that did not commence.
- Provides an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient of unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for up to four (4) months.
- Provides an additional thirteen (13) weeks of unemployment benefits to help those who remain unemployed after weeks of state unemployment are no longer available.
- Provides one-time direct payments of $1,200 for all individuals making up to $75,000; $112,500 for head of household. Married couples making up to $150,000 who file a joint return are eligible for $2,400. Those amounts increase by $500 for every child. The check amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 a taxpayer’s income exceeds the phase-out threshold. The amount is completely phased-out for single filers with incomes exceeding $99,000, $136,500 for head of household filers, and $198,000 for joint filers.
- Waives the 10-percent early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes.
- Entertainment workers will now receive economic support to help make up for the income lost due to cancelled or postponed work, and that money will soon be in the hands of working families.
- The bill also increases federal arts funding – $75 million each – for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting for grants to assist arts nonprofits and other employers in financing projects and performances.
However, our work is not done – the crisis continues and so does the fight. The IATSE remains focused on ensuring that subsequent COVID-19 relief legislation includes pension relief, access to affordable healthcare, and economic support for the entertainment industry to put people back to work. We also stand in solidarity with our brothers, sisters, and kin on the front lines of this coronavirus pandemic and call for increased safety and protections as they seek to help others.
We look forward to the day when entertainment workers can start helping the country heal, but we must first mitigate this public health crisis and ensure we sustain working people until they can safely return to work.