Hollywood applauded the Cares Act. But many have been excluded

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Six weeks ago, Hollywood’s biggest unions applauded a government plan that would extend unemployment benefits to the self-employed and independent contractors who dominate the entertainment industry. But now some are asking for a solution after finding out that many of their members are locked out.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 actors, musicians and other performers, as well as other groups including the Writers Guild of America West, the American Federation of Musicians and the Recording Industry Assn. from America wrote to Congress leaders Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell on Friday called on them to address critical flaws in the plan that have barred many people from accessing emergency aid.

“In order for those of us in the creative realm to survive – and recover – after this crisis, we must be able to access the full support expected by Congress,” the groups wrote in their letter. “Many in our profession work from project to project and concert to concert, not only in several jobs, but in various capacities. ”

A key problem is that these so-called hybrid workers working on a variety of one-off projects find themselves receiving both W-2 salaries and 1099 income for performance, royalties and other services, preventing them from receiving allowances. unemployment.

The group is calling for the program to be updated to allow individuals to show their mixed income sources for full accounting of their annual income.

The $ 2 trillion bipartisan coronavirus stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, signed in March by President Trump, meant that nearly 3 million independent Californians, concert workers and independent contractors were eligible for special unemployment benefits. This sparked a wave of applause from groups in the entertainment industry as hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. But many musicians and filmmakers have found that even a day’s work over a year ago that triggered a W-2 made them ineligible for help.

SAG-AFTRA alone predicted that between 40,000 and 120,000 members could get help under the program. But many found themselves excluded from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, or PUA, a key provision of the CARES Act.

Musicians in particular have been affected. Those who work on location or perform on tour earn independent income in several states, some of which don’t come with a 1099, the entertainment organizations said in their letter.

Launched in California on April 28, the PUA aimed to help business owners, concert workers and others who were not entitled to traditional unemployment or had exhausted their benefits. A loophole meant that if they were on an employer’s payroll and earned a salary of $ 1,300 or more in a quarter in the previous 18 months, that so-called W-2 amount would become the basis of unemployment benefits – and would prevent them from claiming their self-employment income.

Under the agreement, any employee or entrepreneur working in the arts and entertainment who has lost their job due to the pandemic is eligible to access unemployment benefits, including an additional $ 600 per week made available through the package. until July. Unemployment benefits will be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

The group also said that the Small Business Administration guidelines for self-employed workers to access help under the paycheque protection program are “too cumbersome and restrictive”. The guidelines offer small business forgivable loans that keep workers on the payroll during the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic.

The group also complained that the SBA limited the economic disaster loan grant of up to $ 10,000 to just $ 1,000 per employee, penalizing the self-employed.

“There is no coating: the entertainment industry has been decimated,” they said. “When it’s time to reopen the doors to live performances, recording studios, sound stages and sets, entertainment will continue to need help.”

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