Arts and Entertainment Unions and Organizations Call on Congress to Fix Unemployment Benefits for Mixed Earners

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A broad coalition of arts and entertainment unions and organizations came out today in support of the Mixed Earner Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020, which was introduced by U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) to remedy some of the unintended flaws in previous COVID-19 relief bills.

Unfortunately, American workers who have mixed income, that is, income they report as W-2 and 1099 or other self-employment income are being penalized simply because they earned some income as a W-2 employee. If a mixed-earner such as an entrepreneur, seasonal worker, gig worker, or local musician, singer, actor, writer, photographer, or other creator makes enough income as a W-2-employee to qualify for any amount of traditional state unemployment benefits, only their W-2 income is considered in determining a weekly base benefit amount. As a result, these taxpayers are losing thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars in vital benefits that could cover the cost of rent or food during a global pandemic.

Given the unique nature of the arts and entertainment industry, many creators work project to project and gig to gig, not only in multiple jobs but in various capacities. As a result, creators often find themselves working as employees – such as under a union contract – receiving W-2 wages and as independent contractors (or otherwise self-employed) in the same year.

“For many workers, the relief provided by the CARES Act is making a crucial difference in helping make ends meet during this unprecedented period of disruption. Yet due to the nature of independent work, particularly in industries like entertainment, many workers are currently excluded from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance because they earn a living through a mix of self-employment and traditional W-2 jobs,” said Rep. Schiff. “Our bill will ensure that mixed earners are no longer excluded from this critical assistance because of the nature of their employment and income.”

“The coronavirus pandemic brought the economy to a halt for millions. Fortunately, we were able to quickly respond and through the CARES Act put support into the hands of workers who need it. But our traditional system of supporting unemployed workers was not set up for nontraditional workers with mixed income, like the many artists and craftspeople in my district who supplement a W-2 with independent gig work,” said Rep. Chu. “There is no reason these workers should be penalized now for having a mixed income. I’m proud to work with my colleague Rep. Adam Schiff to make this commonsense change to recognize the various ways our constituents earn a living and ensure they are rightly compensated for that during this crisis.”

This new legislation grants the states the option to transition eligible Mixed Earners from their state unemployment program into the federal PUA program, which will ensure equitable benefits for the recipient going forward. Under this legislation, a mixed earner who earned at least $7,250 from self-employment in 2019 could amend their application to qualify for the PUA program where all income will be aggregated to calculate a new weekly base benefit amount based on actual income.

In order for these Americans to survive – and recover – after this crisis, they must be able to access the full support intended by Congress.

The organizations in support of the Mixed Earner Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020 include The Authors Guild, Department for Professional Employees AFL-CIO, Freelancers Union, Future of Music Coalition, Lawyers for the Creative Arts in Chicago, Music Artists Coalition, The Recording Academy, The Recording Industry Association of America, Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Songwriters of North America.

Quotes from each of the supporting organizations follows.

Authors Guild
“The exclusion of freelance mixed-income workers from the PUA has taken a terrible toll on the many authors who supplement their freelance income with part-time jobs reported as W-2 income.  A survey of our members revealed that on average they had lost 43% of their regular income since the start of the Covid19 crisis, with lack of available freelance opportunities and cancellation of speaking engagements—both of which are compensated on a 1099-basis—being the top two causes of the decline. The mixed-income problem in the PUA system needs an urgent fix, and we are grateful to the members of Congress who have made the well-being of our country’s authors and freelance workers a priority.”

Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO

“Union creative professionals were among the first affected by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact, and many will likely be among the last workers able to return safely to their jobs due to longer-term social distancing requirements. It is crucial that Congress not just maintain economic support for them and other workers, but also ensure that ​the programs are administered so that all creative professionals can receive the maximum possible support. ​Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a critical lifeline for workers providing the basics for themselves and their families during this historic crisis that’s keeping them out of work,” said Jennifer Dorning, President, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO.

Freelancers Union

“Freelancers are experiencing the greatest financial crisis in modern history. With over 80% of our members reporting loss of income and work opportunities because of the pandemic, they are depending on government relief in record numbers. There are countless freelancers who have lost the opportunity to claim full UI benefits putting them at a further disadvantage to navigate this crisis. Moving forward we must ensure that all of their wages are taken into full consideration when PUA / UI is calculated in states across the country. Freelancers are rent burdened, depending on food assistance and left with no other recourse to provide for their families,” stated Rafael Espinal, President of Freelancers Union.

Lawyers for the Creative Arts in Chicago

“Gig workers require financial assistance to weather the financial impacts of COVID. We are among several dozen volunteer lawyers for the arts organizations (VLAs) across the country who provide free legal help to artists. Musicians, actors, and others in the arts are amongst the hardest working, most entrepreneurial members of society. Before the pandemic, our clients earned a combination of self-employment and employee income, but they are now receiving lower unemployment benefits than they should under the CARES Act. The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act will bring the CARES Act back in line with Congressional intent to provide assistance to those who work in the gig economy. VLAs across the country are proud to support it.”

Future of Music Coalition

“Congress intended for musicians and other impacted workers to be able to receive the appropriate level of emergency unemployment support, regardless of their employment classification. Unfortunately, some workers are finding this desperately needed money is being withheld for narrow technical and administrative reasons. This bill offers a simple, straightforward fix that everyone should be able to get behind, but time is of the essence,” said Kevin Erickson, Director, Future of Music Coalition.

Music Artists Coalition

“Our music industry workers were the first affected by the pandemic and are likely to be the last to have the privilege of finding work again, due to restrictions on live performances, a cornerstone of our industry. An administrative obstacle should not prevent hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans from their lifeline so that they can pay rent and feed their families. Change – right now – is essential,” said Jordan Bromley, Board Member, Music Artists Coalition.

The Recording Academy

“The pandemic has exposed that our nation’s unemployment system is not designed for all workers, like music creators, leaving so many vulnerable and without assistance,” said Harvey Mason Jr., Chair and Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act is a critical solution that will help so many in our community receive the fair benefits that they deserve. The Recording Academy thanks Representatives Adam Schiff and Judy Chu for their tireless efforts to ensure that all workers have equitable access to unemployment benefits as our creative community faces the long-term effects of this unprecedented crisis.”

Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)

“The CARES Act was a welcome lifeline to thousands of music community members facing an unprecedented loss of work due to the pandemic. The nature of their livelihood, however, has rendered much of that promised financial relief inaccessible,” said Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. “The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act will secure that promised aid to those with multiple revenue streams and ensure that the music community is not irrevocably disadvantaged long after the pandemic is over.  The RIAA thanks Representatives Adam Schiff and Judy Chu for their leadership in introducing this bill.”

SAG-AFTRA

“The entertainment industry is grappling with unprecedented job loss due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. As the industry works diligently to safely restart film and television production, entertainment workers are relying on unemployment benefits to feed and care for their families,” said Gabrielle Carteris, President of SAG-AFTRA. “The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, championed by Adam Schiff and Judy Chu, corrects an unintended flaw in the CARES Act that resulted in affected performers receiving a fraction of the weekly benefits they are owed as taxpayers.”

Songwriters of North America

“Songwriters of North America (SONA) is grateful to Representatives Adam Schiff and Judy Chu for not only listening to, but for correcting the mixed-income issues that the CARES Act unintentionally caused for songwriters and other self-employed workers who have been denied Pandemic Unemployment Assistance due to having a small percentage of W2 earnings. The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act is a crucial fix to ensure that the CARES Act provides relief as Congress intended,” said Michelle Lewis, Executive Director, Songwriters of North America.

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