While the theater community celebrates the inclusion of the Save Our Stages provision in the stimulus package, leaders say there is still more to be done to help workers within the industry.
In addition to the Save Our Stages provision, which would give grants of up to $10 million to theater owners and producers, the stimulus package includes an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits, an extension of pandemic unemployment assistance and one-time $600 payments to individuals, all of which could help support the Broadway industry’s struggling workforce.
However, Democratic leaders and members of the art community say this stimulus package leaves out needed provisions and does not provide the full scope of relief needed.
“Senator Schumer himself said, ‘We can and should do better,’ and I agree,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association, said in a statement reacting to the stimulus package.
The $900 billion package was passed by Congress Monday night and awaits signature from President Donald Trump. Trump said Tuesday that he would not sign the bill unless the $600 payments were increased to $2,000.
Schumer and President-elect Joe Biden have pledged to pass an additional relief package under the new administration, but its passage could be determined by the makeup of the Senate after the Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia.
Theatrical unions have been pushing for additional federal aid for Broadway workers since July. This bill includes 11 weeks of $300 payments on top of the typical unemployment rate beginning the last week of December.
The stimulus package also includes an extension of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for those who do not qualify for or have exhausted traditional unemployment benefits, to March 14, 2021. These programs have been beneficial for members of the industry, but Shindle worries that the timeline is not long enough.
“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,” Shindle said. “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.”
Broadway theaters are currently closed through at least May 30, 2021, with many producers aiming for a restart in fall 2021.
Another key component missing from the stimulus package, is a health insurance subsidy for workers who have lost their health insurance during the pandemic. Equity, alongside other theatrical unions, has been pushing for a 100% COBRA subsidy, particularly after changes to their health plan that will make it harder for members to earn coverage.
In addition to grants for theater owners and producers, the stimulus package includes a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, available to both first-time recipients, as well as those businesses that received a previous loan. Second-time loan recipients must have 300 or fewer employees and be able to prove a 25% reduction in gross receipts from one quarter in 2020 compared to the previous year.
These loans helped many of Broadway’s small businesses hire back employees for several weeks this year.
But, again, while arts leaders, including the grassroots organization, Be An Arts Hero, see many positives in the bill, they’re pushing for additional legislation.
“This win must be recognized as a beginning, not a conclusion, to the long road ahead for relief and recovery. We urge the Biden administration to move swiftly to create additional relief legislation to address the financial crisis facing the millions of Americans who have been catastrophically impacted by COVID-19,” the Be An Arts Hero founders said in a statement.