Freelancers Union Calls on Legislators to Expand Coronavirus Loan Relief to Self-Employed

Getty
A mostly empty Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles on April 17, 2020

The Sundance Institute, the Tribeca Film Institute and the Producers Guild of America co-signed a letter asking for a Payment Protection Program replenishment bill with more protections for freelancers.

After the Small Business Administration ran out of funds to provide coronavirus relief loans, an organization representing freelancers in independent media is calling for legislators to better support the self-employed and independent workers in a replenishment bill.

Freelancers Union president Rafael Espinal and 25 independent film and media groups — including the Sundance Institute, the Tribeca Film Institute, the Producers Guild of America and Film Independent — on Tuesday sent a letter to to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking them to "replenish SBA funding for PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans and institute measures to ensure that freelancers in film and media are able to access funding."

Given that sole proprietors, the self-employed and other independent workers were granted access to apply for PPP loans on April 10 (a week after small business were invited to apply), these workers had four business days to apply before funds ran out on April 16. Banks have described being overrun with applications, and PNC Bank has warned applicants that it is likely not all who qualify will receive the funds.

Specifically, the coalition of independent media companies asks that Congress designate specific funds for independent contractors and the self-employed in a bill intended to replenish PPP; reserve 50 percent of loans for minority sole proprietors; require SBA lenders to process all applications they receive irrespective of prior relationships to the applicant; allow independent and self-employed to apply first in the next round of applications; and require the SBA to publish information on the size of small businesses receiving loans and the amount of self-employed and independent workers receiving loans.

"Freelancers in media are being left out of critical government relief efforts," the letter continues. "We must expeditiously put forward policies that include the millions of these independent workers that drive our cities and country forward."

The PPP came under fire in recent days when publicly traded companies and major corporations like Ruth's Chris Steak House, Shake Shack and Potbelly revealed that they had received coronavirus relief loans earmarked for small businesses. Shake Shack has since returned its $10 million emergency loan.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced that his administration and congressional leaders had come to an agreement on a bill that would replenish the depleted PPP funds with $310 billion. The first $349 billion offered in SBA loans ran out in less than two weeks. The latest bill still needs to be passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate before it is signed into law.

"A significant number of independent media makers and documentary filmmakers operate as freelancers,” International Documentary Association executive director Simon Kilmurry said in a statement about the letter (the IDA is a signatory). “We have heard from thousands of those makers that their businesses have been shut down and that they have been shut out of the initial round of PPP. It is imperative that any new federal aid under PPP prioritize freelancers.”

Earlier this month, California Rep. Adam Schiff penned a letter to his state's labor secretary asking for a quicker rollout of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which provides up to 39 weeks of benefits and a $600 additional payment weekly for business owners, self-employed workers or independent contractors whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic. Still, applications will not be available until April 28.