Just prior to adjourning for the year, the 116th U.S. Congress passed an omnibus government funding bill with a $900 billion COVID-19 emergency economic relief package attached that will provide some measure of support for IATSE members in the coming months.
Partisan gridlock following the passage of the CARES Act in March and the failure of the Republican majority in the Senate to consider the House-passed HEROES Act has exacerbated the economic hardship thrust upon entertainment workers by this health crisis.
The relief offered by the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” falls far short of what is needed to meet the full magnitude of this pandemic, but it is a welcome lifeline for the tens of thousands of entertainment workers who remain out of work through no fault of their own.
Among its key provisions, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021:
- Extends the unemployment insurance provisions from the CARES Act through March 14, 2021
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (FPUC) – partially restores federal enhancement that expired in July, provides additional $300 per week for all workers receiving unemployment benefits
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – eligibility for self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – additional weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals who exhaust state benefits
- Increases the maximum number of weeks an individual may claim benefits through regular state unemployment plus the PEUC program, or the PUA program, to 50 weeks
- Provides an extra benefit of $100 per week for certain workers who have both wage and self-employment income but whose base UI benefit calculation doesn’t take their self-employment into account
- Provides a second round of economic impact payment checks at $600 per person (phasing out after $75k income for single filers and $150k for joint filers), as well as a $600 payment for each child dependent
- Includes $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions – known as the Save Our Stages Act – with a certification that eligible venues must adhere to non-abrogation of collective bargaining agreements and union neutrality
- Supports paid sick and family leave by extending the tax credit from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act through March 31, 2021
- Extends and expands the Employee Retention Tax Credit to help keep workers on payroll
- Extends the federal Section 181 film tax deduction through December 2025
- Extends the national eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021 and includes $25 billion for rental assistance to families facing eviction
- Provides funding for free and equitable vaccine distribution, a strong national testing and tracing strategy with billions reserved specifically for combating the disparities facing communities of color, and to support health care workers
Additionally, in a victory for entertainment workers who depend on the sale of legitimate content for their health and pension benefits, the omnibus bill modernizes criminal copyright law by making felony penalties available for illegal streaming – while ensuring that such felony penalties are available only against the most egregious offenders: those who operate commercial streaming services that are primarily designed for illegal streaming of copyrighted content. This will provide prosecutors with an effective tool to deter the theft of copyrighted works that threaten our hard-won health care benefits and retirement security.
The omnibus bill also increases federal arts funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. The FY 2021 funding levels for NEA and NEH have been raised to $167.5 million each, a $5.25 million increase over FY 2020 levels.
Unfortunately, the bill provides over $284 billion for forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and expands PPP eligibility to 501(c)(6) nonprofits, yet fails to extend that support to 501(c)(5) nonprofits. Astonishingly, this makes chambers of commerce and trade associations eligible for federally funded economic support and not labor organizations, who are providing vital assistance to working families during this pandemic. Labor unions deserve the same support that every other employer is eligible to receive during this critical time and it is wholly unacceptable that this bill neglects to provide such relief.
As we enter the new year, the initial distribution of FDA-approved vaccines offers us much hope, but the coronavirus pandemic will continue for many months to come. So too will our fight for additional relief.
While the motion picture industry is recovering from the worst of the devastating unemployment caused by the pandemic, those of our members who work in live events and tradeshows will be among the last in the country to return to their jobs in a meaningful way due to government mandated restrictions.
Subsequent COVID-19 relief legislation must ensure the safety of entertainment workers as states allow workplaces to reopen by ordering OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard that establishes an employer’s responsibility to protect workers from infection; preserve access to affordable, quality healthcare with a 100% COBRA premium subsidy; extend PPP access to all nonprofits; protect our healthy pension plans and earned pension checks; and provide direct economic support for organizations in the arts, entertainment, and media industries to get people back to work when it is safe to do so.
The IATSE commends Congress on this positive step, but we remain steadfast in our demand for a more comprehensive relief package early next year when President-elect Joe Biden takes office and the 117th Congress is sworn in.