New COVID Relief Bill: What Are the Benefits for Music Workers
“There are a lot of things to celebrate in the bill,” says Kevin erickson, director of the nonprofit Future of Music Coalition. “For starters, it’s big. This is not to repeat the mistake of 2009 when the stimulus package adopted in response to the Great Recession was far too small. It’s still too small, but there are a lot of meaningful steps we can build on.
Mixed results for mixed incomes
Specifically, the bill includes a weekly supplement of $ 300 for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which is $ 100 less than in the original House bill. The change was noted as a concession to moderate Democrats Senator Joe Manchin, and this will hit particularly hard the “mixed wage earners” who earn their living from a combination of employee wages and self-employment income.
Due to a loophole in the pandemic relief legislation of the CARES Act of March 2020, workers whose W-2 earnings qualified them for traditional unemployment benefits were deemed ineligible for unemployment assistance. Pandemic Unemployment (PUA), the state-level assistance system created for freelancers. As a result, the unemployment benefit amounts for many freelancers were determined by their often much less substantial W-2 incomes, leaving them with only tiny state-level allowances. Because of this, many in this situation saw the FPUC supplement – which was $ 600 per week under the CARES Act and reduced to $ 300 when extended in late 2020 – as a lifeline.
Advocates expected the $ 400 FPUC benefit established by the House for the American Rescue Plan Act to remain intact when it leaves the Senate, but Manchin reportedly threatened to vote against the package if the FPUC were not not lowered.
“One hundred dollars a week is a big loss for a musician unable to work because of the pandemic,” said the president and CEO of A2IM. Richard Burgess, who worked as a freelance musician for many years and was a strong advocate for freelance relief.
Senate bill extends weekly unemployment compensation supplement for mixed workers (MEUC) by $ 100 – introduced in second relief plan adopted by then president Donald trump in December 2020 – until September 6. It is a week longer than the House bill. (South Dakota and Idaho chose not to offer the supplement to their residents when the December package was passed.) While the $ 100 MEUC was a significant concession to mixed-sex workers, its advocates had also made pressure on senators to keep federal unemployment benefit at the $ 400 level approved by the House. They argued that the $ 300 provided by the latest package was not enough, especially since lawmakers failed to correct the loophole in the CARES law that led mixed workers to be excluded from benefits. PUA in the first place.
Representatives of the United States Adam schiff and Judy Chu attempted to correct this fundamental flaw by introducing the law on assistance to people with mixed income in the event of an unemployment pandemic last July, but the bill was ultimately excluded from both the December relief plan and current legislation.
Sarah howes, an independent lawyer who volunteers for artists, concert workers, freelancers and entrepreneurs affected by the pandemic, says advocates had also been pushing for the MEUC to be raised to $ 150 per week, but adds that the extension of the supplement counts as a victory for mixed workers, who were practically ignored in the original legislation of the CARES law adopted in March 2020.
“We are so grateful to have been included,” Howes says. “It gives money and makes these people feel heard. I can tell you that when you are in a crisis, feeling heard is an integral part of it. . “
Lauren Hancock, a lawyer at the DC Barnes & Thornburg law firm that sits on the board of directors of Songwriters of North America (SONA), agrees that while the relief bill is insufficient in some areas, it is a valuable messaging tool for the future, especially when it comes to freelance issues. “[Having] all of those things… included in these COVID relief packages are great for putting the issue on people’s radar, ”she says.
Stimulation controls: a palliative, not a solution
The Senate bill also extends the FPUC – which, like other pandemic unemployment benefits, was due to expire on March 14 – until September 6, also a week longer than in the version of the law to bedroom. It also includes $ 1,400 stimulus checks that will be sent to people earning $ 75,000 or less and a maximum joint income of $ 150,000 for couples.
Howes says these stimulus checks will certainly help mixed-sex workers pay off all the debts they’ve accumulated, but overall, she explains, they won’t make up for the thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits that concert workers lost. What is really needed, she continues, is long-term relief for mixed workers who have been virtually excluded from the unemployment system over the past year.
“There are still serious problems,” she said. “There are still some who are waiting for benefits and others who have been excluded from any unemployment assistance despite losing most or all of their income due to loopholes in policy. We must continue to address these issues – with legislation, [Department of Labor] directives, state unemployment policy and the modernization of technology. “
In addition to permanent fixes to the unemployment system, Howes says Congress and the Biden administration must also consider debt relief programs for mixed-use workers who have accumulated credit card debt, as well as credit card debt. Refundable tax and subsidies for entrepreneurs whose businesses have suffered losses.
Tax breaks, healthcare subsidies and more
Other provisions that will benefit freelance music workers in the bill include an increase in the per child tax credit to $ 3,600 for children under six and to $ 3,000 for those under six and six. more; and an increase in the child and dependent care credit, which covers 50% of eligible child care expenses for children and other dependents, up to a maximum of $ 4,000 for one dependent and $ 8,000 for two or more people.
The American Rescue Plan Act would also remove taxes on the first $ 10,200 of federal unemployment benefits for 2020 and offer a refund to anyone who has already paid them. It further provides additional grants for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and COBRA plans and a combined $ 40 billion in additional rent and mortgage assistance. The Senate also added an amendment to the House bill that will exempt all student loan forgiveness from federal tax, including the potential cancellation of future student loans by Congress or the Biden administration, provided that this debt will be forgiven by Jan. 1, 2026. And it provides an additional $ 1.25 billion to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, with another $ 840,000 allocated to Small Business Administration (SBA) staff, who is responsible for allocating these funds. The SVOG amendment will also allow sites to apply for and receive funds from the second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, which closes applications on March 31. If sites receive these PPP2 funds along with a site grant, the amount of their PPP funds will be reduced by the amount of their awarded grant.
“Working families are getting a lot in this bill,” says Burgess, who adds that the legislation also “triples[s] the value of the earned income tax credit over $ 1,500 and[s] it is easier for people without children to benefit from it. The bill provides an additional $ 15 billion in economic disaster loans (EIDL), to which freelancers are eligible, he says.
Erickson is also encouraged by the bill’s $ 3.5 billion allocation for block grants to combat mental health and substance use, including $ 100 million for staff training in mental health. “Musicians face disproportionate rates of anxiety, depression and addiction, even in the good times,” he says. “The pressure our healthcare system is under has led to reductions in this type of treatment. Even though the ACA means people have coverage for mental health and addictions, there are real issues with a shortage of providers. It should help.