How Performers Can Receive U.S. Government Funds During COVID-19

Article Image
Photo Source: Green Chameleon/Unsplash

Finally, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the president agree on something: the citizens of the United States need financial support during the national shutdown, designed to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. And artists are no exception. On March 27, the historic $2.2 trillion CARES stimulus bill was signed into law. But what now? How can actors utilize governmental funding during a time where every gig, from stage to screen, has been disrupted? Backstage has the essential info for you to know. 



Did you have professional work disrupted because of COVID-19?

The stimulus package includes special provisions that cover independent contractors and freelance workers, which makes it easier for artists to receive unemployment insurance for work that was thwarted, delayed, or canceled. 

What is unemployment insurance?

Employers pay into unemployment insurance so that when someone loses their job, they have benefits to keep them and their families afloat. However, unemployment insurance is distributed at the state level, meaning every state has different stipulations for who qualifies for unemployment insurance and how much they recieve. 

To learn about each state’s unemployment process, click here

How can one apply for unemployment insurance?

You can apply through your state’s department of labor website. States provide unemployment payments on a weekly basis. You need to reapply every week to stay on unemployment. In most states, you can apply for unemployment online or over the phone. However, with high volumes of people applying, some states have assigned specific days for applicants to submit their claim, based on their last name. Check your state’s department of labor website for more details. 

To file for unemployment in your state of choice, click here

If you are granted unemployment insurance, what happens next?

Applicants who are granted unemployment insurance at the state level will be awarded state benefits along with an additional $600 per week. Under the Act, part-time workers and freelancers should be granted unemployment status, regardless of state policy. 


How long does unemployment insurance last?

It depends on the state—but most provide 26 weeks. Remember, payments are made on a week-by-week basis, so frequent reapplications are necessary. The CARES Act provides 13 weeks in addition to a state’s normal coverage cap. Further, you will receive $600 until July 31, 2020. This date could be extended based upon additional legislation that is expected to make its way through Congress in the coming weeks. 

What is sick leave and family leave?

The CARES Act allows two weeks of paid sick leave at regular pay if an employee is ill, is caring for a family member who is sick, or prohibited from working from local or state social distancing laws. After two weeks, the Act covers two-thirds of pay for guardians who must care for ill family members or children who are out of school for ten weeks.

What about a check?

Americans earning under $75,000 a year are entitled to a $1,200 check and families $500 per child under 16. According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, people who have submitted direct deposit information with the IRS received checks by mid-April. For those whom the IRS does not have direct deposit information for, this online system allows taxpayers to upload their bank information, provide contact information for a check, or check on the status of their stimulus. 

However, hard copy checks will be delayed by days with President Trump insisting that the memo line be scribbled with his signature—an unprecedented move analyzed by many as a political tactic to manipulate the stimulus for campaign purposes. 


What options are there for theaters and producers who hire performers?

At the time of this publication, there are three potential relief options for employers not including state or municipal initiatives: 

  • The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)
  • The Payroll Protection Program (PPP)
  • The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) 

What is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL)?

This loan is managed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and is typically rolled out when disaster strikes. Usually, this loan is only available to businesses and nonprofits in a disaster zone; however, with a nation-wide disaster zone, some stipulations of the loan have changed. Hurdles that once made the application process a feat have been removed, making it easier than ever to prove eligibility. Eligible applicants to the EIDL can get a $10,000 grant within days just of applying. Further, for loans under $25,000, no collateral is required. 

Since this loan program has been around for some time, the protocols for applying are more streamlined and tested. 

What is the Payroll Protection Program (PPP)?

Established through the CARES Act, the PPP offers low-interest loans to cover payroll up to two months. The loan is forgivable if recipients use 75% of the loan for the payroll costs of W2 employees and rehire their staff by June 30. Loans can be up to two months of a business’s traditional payroll costs plus 25% more. 

This loan program is new, and will likely experience some bumps as it takes off. 

UPDATE: With bipartisan cooperation, the Senate has approved $310 billion to replenish the PPP with new provisions to ensure that the funds aren’t exhausted by big businesses. The decision comes after the funds were initially capped after running through the allotted amount within four weeks.

What happens if my organization receives multiple government loans?

If you are awarded an EIDL and PPP loan, it is unclear whether you can accept both. Experts expect that policy will likely state that competing loan funds cannot be used for the expense. So, for example, if you get the PPP loan, the EIDL should be used for other costs besides payroll. However, because this is new legislation, a lot still needs to be hammered out. 

How can I get a National Endowment for the Arts Grant?

In the CARES Act, $75 million was granted to the NEA to distribute via fast-track grants. These grants can be applied to nonprofit arts organizations for general operations without matching funds—a shift from the standard NEA protocol of awards being project-based mutual investments. 

Sixty percent of the allocated funds from the CARES Act will go into direct grants for arts organizations; recipients of the grants will be notified on June 30. Forty percent of NEA will go to state and regional agencies that support culture and the arts; those recipients will be announced by the end of April. 

For updates and information on how to apply for funding, click here

How should I prepare for funding?

Loans are first-come, first-serve—so it’s valuable to move quickly. Consult with an accountant to make sure you have all of the materials necessary to apply for any of the loans successfully. Further, you must pay close attention to the guidelines, so ensure that emergency loans granted during this crisis will be forgiven.

The news is changing fast. Where can I say up-to-date?

Backstage has your back during this unprecedented time.

  • For updates on finding auditions, click here
  • For organizations aiding out-of-work actors, click here.
  • For the latest COVID-19 industry news, click here