- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2020

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, on Thursday urged for Congress to expand unemployment benefits to cover entertainment industry workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Schiff, whose congressional district includes parts of Hollywood and the greater Los Angeles area, made his case in an op-ed published by the industry trade sheet Variety.

Acknowledging that most Americans losing work because of the coronavirus pandemic will qualify for unemployment benefits, Mr. Schiff noted that freelancers and independent contractors are currently unable to receive assistance available to employees of traditional companies and small businesses.

“One industry that’s near to my heart — and significantly impacted — is entertainment. And while that might bring to mind highly-paid movie stars, the reality is that the vast majority in the industry are working class, and they’re in jobs that make them ineligible for some traditional benefits,” wrote Mr. Schiff.

“The unique freelance nature of film, television and theater jobs means that a large number of the professionals who make these productions possible work only sporadically — often with extended periods between paying jobs — and count on income from each project to make ends meet. On top of that, many of these workers supplement their income with second jobs in industries like service and hospitality, which are also facing drastic cutbacks. As a result, many of them can’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits or paid emergency leave, and are unable to cover their basic expenses due to lost work,” Mr. Schiff added.

To account for entertainment industry workers ineligible for unemployment benefits, Mr. Schiff suggested Congress expand existing protections to apply to contract workers and freelancers who work in the nation’s entertainment industry.

“Entertainment workers must not be left behind,” said Mr. Schiff.

Congress passed legislation this week, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, extending paid sick leave and expanding family and medical leave protection to workers affected by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Signed by President Trump on Wednesday, the legislation provides some assistance to self-employed workers, albeit in the form of a refundable tax credit determined by their average daily income for the year.

Writing for Variety, Mr. Schiff suggested that self-employed entertainment industry workers receive assistance based not off of their annual income, but rather the income they would have earned for projects put off because of the pandemic.

“One solution is to allow these workers to obtain unemployment benefits based on verifiable anticipated earnings for a current or future contract that was canceled or postponed, rather than based on prior wage history,” he wrote.

More than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S. since January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, a union representing entertainment industry workers, announced Tuesday that cancelations caused by COVID-19 have caused the loss of 120,000 jobs held by its 150,000 members, Deadline reported.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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