President Donald Trump signed into law a more than $100 billion coronavirus aid bill Wednesday night (March 18), providing free testing and ensuring paid emergency leave for some employees, among other measures.
The White House is now negotiating plans for a much larger aid package, intended to help salvage the economy.
Meanwhile, here’s what’s included in the just-passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act, how it will affect music gig workers, many of whose livelihoods have come to a screeching halt — and a note on what’s to come.
Paid emergency leave
The bill includes a number of provisions for paid emergency leave, but only traditional salaried or hourly workers are fully covered. There is some coverage for part-time workers and those who are self-employed, a subset that makes up a large part of the live music business workforce.
Full-time American workers who are sick or quarantined due to COVID-19 will be eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave. Those workers will receive 100% of their normal salary, up to $511 per day (which works out to about $130,000 per year). And you don’t need to have tested positive for COVID-19 to get the benefit — anyone told to quarantine, showing symptoms, exposed to the virus or trying to get a test or preventive care qualifies.
Additionally, the bill will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to workers with children whose schools have closed, or who are caring for a sick loved one. Those workers will get about 67% of their normal salary for this period, up to $200 per day.
Part-time employees will get paid sick leave for “a number of hours equal to the number of hours that such employee works, on average, over a 2-week period.” Meanwhile, people who are self-employed are eligible for a tax credit in the amount of up to two weeks of paid sick leave at their average pay, or up to 12 weeks of paid family leave at 67% of their normal pay.
To the benefit of many music gig workers, the law defines “self-employed on a regular basis” broadly: If your net earnings from self-employment totaled at least $400 in at least two of the last three consecutive taxable years, you fall within this category.
What should business owners know?
The bill provides for a tax credit to help cover the costs. But companies with over 500 employees are exempt from both sick leave and family leave rules, and companies with less than 50 employees can request exemptions, “if it would jeopardize the viability of their business,” according to the bill.
This means that the major labels are likely exempt, though their own paid leave policies may provide assistance already. Some large companies, like Walmart and Uber, have already voluntarily tweaked their paid sick leave policies to help employees cope with the pandemic.
Regardless, both sick leave and family leave provisions expire at the end of the year.
Unemployment insurance and food assistance
The bill directs $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs, providing grants to states for processing and paying claims. This means that live music workers who have been laid off due to coronavirus-related cancellations will have an easier time applying for and receiving unemployment benefits in the near future. And many states have already passed emergency executive orders to eliminate barriers to applicants seeking unemployment benefits.
It will also expand access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and allow states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.
The bill establishes requirements for providing free coronavirus testing to all Americans, regardless of whether they have health insurance. It also expands Medicaid funding.
What’s to come?
Congress is now working on a roughly $1 trillion economic aid bill, including plans to send most Americans a check or direct deposit of $1,000, and keep the hospitality and airline industries afloat. And music industry leaders are publicly urging policymakers to consider specific plans to aid the live music business, which has been uniquely harmed by coronavirus-related cancellations. By now, nearly every U.S. concert has been cancelled or postponed indefinitely.
The Recording Academy sent a letter to Congress earlier this week, where chairman and interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr. asked policymakers “to protect our nation’s musicians, performers, songwriters, and studio professionals. Just as many large industries will be seeking support, you should not forget the smallest of small businesses: individual music makers who will not benefit from employer-based relief.”
The Music Artists Coalition also sent a letter to Congress yesterday, writing, “The music industry is facing an existential threat that is unprecedented – the touring business as we know it has disappeared without warning and without a safety net for hundreds of thousands of people.”