The Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds is lobbying New York state to include healthcare provisions, including COBRA subsidies, in the upcoming budget.
With most of the theater industry out of work and in danger of losing healthcare coverage, the affiliated unions are asking the state to renew its COBRA subsidy program for entertainment workers, which would cover 50% of members’ healthcare premiums. The state’s current COBRA program is set to expire July 2021.
Individual unions have also been lobbying the federal government to include a COBRA subsidy in the upcoming relief package. The latest version of the federal stimulus relief package includes a COBRA subsidy that covers 85% of healthcare premium costs and ends Sept. 30, 2021. However, the package has not yet been finalized.
The dual efforts by the unions are meant to be complementary and cover the large amount of need among the arts community. Many theater workers are due to lose union healthcare coverage, as they’ve been unable to earn the work weeks needed to maintain coverage.
“Securing health care relief is a top priority for the Broadway Unions and Guilds. Theatre workers are suffering. Almost all lost their jobs last spring, which means they’ve also lost health care for themselves and their families. Health care relief must be included in the upcoming New York State budget,” COBUG Co-Chairs Joe Hartnett and Laura Penn said in a press release.
As part of their lobbying effort, the coalition sent letters to several New York lawmakers last week calling for a renewal of the COBRA subsidy program, which was first enacted in 2004. COBUG has also asked the state to restore funding of the program to $3.75 million and to raise the program’s income eligibility limits, which were established in 2004. The current program limits eligibility to individuals who make less than $2,529 a month and sets an income limit of $3,429 a month for two-person families.
Additionally, the coalition is asking that any utilization of the program during the pandemic not be counted toward the program’s 12-month lifetime limit.
The New York state budget is scheduled to be finalized April 1.