SAG-AFTRA, Entertainment Groups Ask Congress to Update CARES Program

SAG-AFTRA Building - H - 2020

Roughly 45 entertainment industry organizations, including SAG-AFTRA, Actors' Equity Association and the Writers Guild of America East, on Friday sent a letter to Congress identifying ways in which they believe implementation of the CARES Act has fallen short in assisting workers in the entertainment community during COVID-19, while urging Congress to remedy these issues.

"For those of us in the creative field to survive — and recover — after this crisis, we must be able to access the full support intended by Congress," wrote the coalition, whose members also include Paradigm, ASCAP, BMI and the Recording Academy.

The organizations assert that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program has overlooked workers who have mixed income and report it on W-2 and 1099 forms, and they asked Congress to update the program.

"Given the unique nature of our industry, many in our professional work from project to project and gig to gig, not only in multiple jobs but in various capacities," according to the letter. "As a result creators often find themselves working as employees receiving W-2 wages and as independent contractors (or otherwise self-employed) receiving 1099 income for performances, royalties and other services. In almost all cases that we see in every state, a minimum amount of W-2 income disqualifies a self-employed individual for PUA and significantly lowers the amount of assistance they receive. PUA must be updated to recognize these different income streams and allow individuals to show their mixed sources of revenue for a full accounting of their annual income."

The coalition also stated that due to this mixed income issue and other industry practices, the Paycheck Protection Program doesn't support self-employed individuals, including independent contractors. The group argues that its workers "cannot afford to be shut out of federal assistance on such a technicality and any future plan should recognize self-employed individuals."

Additionally, PPP guidelines on eligibility are "burdensome and restrictive," the coalition writes. "The SBA should allow the use of 1099-MISC forms and consideration of health insurance costs in the calculation of loan amounts, as well as the 2018 Schedule C when a 2019 form is not readily available," it suggests.

Looking ahead to the point at which the industry opens for business, including live performances and production, "the government must commit to provide adequate testing, contact tracing, viral treatments and a vaccine to ensure safety and restore public trust."

"The entertainment industry has been decimated," the letter explains. "We need help that only you can provide, in a way that recognizes the particulars of our industry."