New York – Actors' Equity Association, the national labor union representing professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, released the following statement regarding the newly passed COVID-19 relief bill, which extends COVID unemployment payments and includes the $15 billion “Save Our Stages” provision with help for venue operators. 

“Senator Schumer himself said, 'We can and should do better,' and I agree,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association. “This bill does indeed contain valuable provisions that will extend unemployment for those in the live arts. And it offers a down payment on funding for vaccinations, which will create a shorter path for us to get back to work. Unfortunately, our industry will not yet have recovered when this new round of unemployment provisions expire, creating uncertainty for millions of middle-class Americans who make our living in the arts and entertainment sector. The package also fails to provide COBRA funding for arts workers, who are losing their health insurance through no fault of their own during the industry shutdown. We look forward to working with President Biden and the new Congress next year to improve upon the steps taken in this important bill.” 

Among the bill’s unemployment provisions that are meaningful for those in the arts and entertainment sector: 

  • The bill extends Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to March 14, 2021. PUA is used by many in the arts and entertainment sector.  
  • It restores the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation supplement to all state and federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week, starting after December 26 and ending March 14, 2021.  
  • It increases the number of weeks of benefits an individual may claim from 39 to 50.  
  • It also includes a fix for those who have at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income but are disqualified from receiving PUA. 

Equity has been fighting for a governmental response to an arts industry shutdown since March, when it first asked for an economic relief package for an industry in crisis. This effort continued with the passage of the CARES Act, helping expand the bill to apply to arts workers who lost future work.

Early during the crisis, Equity called for a federal COBRA health insurance subsidy. While this bill has important provisions, it does not provide help to those who work in the live arts and are facing the prospect of losing their health care during the industry shutdown. 

Equity members earn their union insurance one week at a time that they work on contract. With nearly 100% unemployment for theatre workers, more members have been falling off of their union plan every month. A COBRA subsidy would make it affordable to remain on their health insurance during a global pandemic. 

Equity has also been advocating for increased arts funding to help the industry. 

ACTORS' EQUITY ASSOCIATION, founded in 1913, is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits (health and pension included). Member: AFL-CIO, FIA.  #EquityWorks  

December 22, 2020