Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti, Other Top Showrunners Match Donations for Support Staff Relief Fund

Shonda Rhimes and Greg Berlanti - Getty - SPlit - H 2020
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A relief fund created to provide financial assistance to Hollywood support staff that have become suddenly unemployed or had work hours cut has surpassed its goal after receiving significant donations from major showrunners.

On Tuesday night, the Hollywood Support Staff COVID-19 Relief Fund, created by #PayUpHollywood, Young Entertainment Activists and Scriptnotes podcast organizers, announced that it had raised more than its $100,000 minimum goal to provide relief to assistants, readers, coordinators, PAs and others. Included in the announcement was a mention that several major showrunners had pledged to match donations dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000 each, including Greg Berlanti (Batwoman, The Flash), Shonda Rhimes (Scandal), Damon Lindelof (Watchmen), Lisa Joy and Jonah Nolan (Westworld) and Julie Plec (Legacies). Screenwriter and Scriptnotes podcast co-host John August (Aladdin) also matched donations dollar-for-dollar.

On Wednesday, #PayUpHollywood cofounder Liz Alper added that Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) had donated $50,000 to the fund.

"Money raised from here on out will still go to support staff in need," Alper wrote as an update to contributors. "In total, including match donations, we have raised $275k to help qualified support staff (with more match challengers coming)." By Wednesday afternoon, the GoFundMe had raised $201,733 (match amounts were not immediately available). 

The fund, created on Saturday, aims to provide a one-time stipend to support staff: As the organizers noted in their initial pitch, "most support staff can't afford to pay rent and bills on the UEI [unemployment insurance] max cap of $450/week; the situation is worse for support staff who were hired as 1099 employees [independent contractors] and do not qualify for unemployment."

Support staffers can apply for stipends of either $450 (for partial wage loss) or $900 (for total wage loss) to help pay rent, utilities, student loan payments and other necessary expenses. The organizers originally calculated that if they raised $100,000, they could provide stipends to 111-222 staffers; now, they will be able to help over double that number.

To qualify, prospects must first apply for unemployment benefits, with independent contractors exempt from the requirement. Support staffers will receive stipends based on the order they apply in and the urgency of their need.

Within their explanation of the stipend program, organizers argued that studios should still be paying staffers whose projects have been canceled, paused or put on hiatus amid the coronavirus crisis. "We urge the studios and employers in the entertainment industry to continue compensating ALL their employees during this time of uncertainty," they wrote. "We know this is an expensive ask, but businesses profit because of the hard work of a company's employees. They need your financial protection and support now more than ever."

The Hollywood Support Staff COVID-19 Relief Fund joins several others that have been created in the last few days to provide support to the newly unemployed in entertainment. A GoFundMe has also been created for Paramount pages and for musicians, while on Tuesday IATSE announced it had donated $2.5 million to The Actors Fund, the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the Actors Fund of Canada.