Hundreds of thousands of arts, entertainment and recreation workers are among more than 2.2 million people certifying for unemployment benefits in California as of June, according to data cited by trade publication Deadline Hollywood.
Of the 230,000 workers who have filed for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in the Golden State since March are 65,000 arts and entertainment workers in Los Angeles County, 30,000 industry workers in Orange County and 25,000 workers in San Diego County, Deadline Hollywood reported.
The number represents a sharp increase from the first two months of 2020 when just 730 workers in the entertainment industry applied for UI benefits in California, the publication said.
Since March, many of these workers have received between $40 and $450 in UI benefits from California every week, plus an additional $600 per week thanks to a federal economic relief benefit for those who are out of work due to the ongoing COVID-19 health pandemic. The amount of state UI benefits is calculated from a formula that takes into account income, length of employment and other factors.
That extra $600 a week will end on July 31. A restoration of that benefit requires both an act of Congress and a signature by President Donald Trump. As of now, there is no plan for that benefit to return, and it appears unlikely a new economic relief package will pass before the end of the month.
California’s entertainment industry has been particularly hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic as TV and film studios were forced to shut down production due to shelter-at-home orders. Some movies that were planned for theatrical releases were instead released directly to consumers through online rental services; most movie theaters have been closed since the pandemic began.
Some entertainment workers have been unable to access state UI benefits and separate pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) funds if they were employed part-time and working as an independent contractor in other roles. Other full-time freelancers in the entertainment industry were ineligible for state UI and federal PUA benefits altogether.
On Monday, two Democratic lawmakers introduced a measure in Congress that would allow freelancers working in the entertainment industry to access state and federal unemployment benefits now and in the future.
“Our bill will ensure that mixed earners are no longer excluded from this critical assistance because of the nature of their employment and income.,” Rep Adam Schiff (D., Burbank), one of the measure’s co-sponsors, said in a statement.
The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (MEPUA) would open the door for independent contractors and other freelancers who generate revenue from a variety of sources have access to federal economic relief money through unemployment assistance programs. If Congress and Trump approved another relief package that includes unemployment payments to those out of work, the MEPUA would remove a roadblock for workers who previously found themselves ineligible.
“There is no reason these workers should be penalized now for having a mixed income,” Rep. Judy Chu (D., Pasadena), MEPUA’s other co-sponsor, said. “I’m proud to work with my colleague Rep. Adam Schiff to make this common sense change to recognize the various ways our constituents earn a living and ensure they are rightly compensated for that during this crisis.”