Early this morning, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan Act, the first step in providing comprehensive COVID-19 relief to behind-the-scenes entertainment workers still reeling from the pandemic. The bill passed largely along party-lines, with all but two House Democrats voting in favor and all House Republicans in opposition. IATSE lauds House passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, which contains vital assistance for our members and all Americans.
This desperately needed aid was a primary issue that drove IATSE members to the polls in record numbers in the 2020 elections. President Joe Biden and the pro-worker majorities in both chambers of Congress that we helped to elect have immediately begun to deliver on their campaign promises. The American Rescue Plan Act provides relief to entertainment workers who remain out of work through no fault of their own and economic support until a safe return to work is possible, while also beginning to set the stage for the recovery of our industry.
The bill, modeled after President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, includes nearly all IATSE’s priorities for subsequent COVID-19 relief legislation:
–Increases the federal weekly unemployment supplement to $400 and extends the COVID-19 unemployment programs (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) through the end of August
–Provides an 85% subsidy of COBRA premiums through the end of September, so that members who have not yet returned to work can remain on multiemployer health plans (we continue to advocate that the Senate increase the subsidy level to 100%)
–Makes 501(c)(5) labor unions eligible for Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans so that local unions can continue to provide important support and assistance to their members, despite significant COVID-19-related declines in revenues
–Allows multiemployer pension plans to freeze zone status and smooth losses, protecting our healthy plans; delivers long-needed support to troubled pension plans and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, without jeopardizing healthy plans
–Provides direct payments of $1,400; payments phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 and couples $150,000, with a complete phase out at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples; eligibility based on 2019 or 2020 tax returns.
–Appropriates $135 million in emergency supplemental funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and an additional $1.25 billion for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program (Save Our Stages)
For those not eligible for COBRA, the bill also fully subsidizes Affordable Care Act coverage for people earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level for two years as well as those on unemployment insurance. Additional provisions include expanding tax credits for employers who provide their employees with paid sick leave and paid family leave through September, extending the CARES Act Employee Retention Credit, providing $350 billion in state and local government aid, and significant funding for vaccinations and a plan to defeat the virus.
The measure calls for increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, however, the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that this provision violates the Byrd Rule under budget reconciliation – the procedure by which the Senate will seek to pass this legislation with 51 votes. Therefore, unfortunately, this provision as currently written must be stripped out of the final version of the bill.
The Senate will begin considering the package next week and we urge swift action to get this crucial legislation to President Biden’s desk for signature in early March.