FAQ: Music workers accessing government support & relief during the Coronavirus pandemic

Kevin Erickson
Apr 1, 2020 · 12 min read

Musicians, songwriters, producers, sound engineers, and other music industry workers have been hit especially hard by the Coronavirus. This page is intended to help impacted workers navigate and access various sources of government support, including support that was included in the CARES Act.

Information about these programs is still being rolled out by various federal and state agencies, some of which are still in the process of drafting guidelines. We’ll be updating this document with all we learn as we learn it.

Please ask questions and we’ll try to answer them!

Last updated May 5, 2020.

ECONOMIC IMPACT PAYMENTS

Who’s eligible for this money?

Tax filers making up to $75K/individual and up to $150K /married couples will receive the full payment which is $1200 for individuals, $2400 for married couples filing jointly, plus $500 per child. For filers with income above $75K/$150K, the payment amount is gradually reduced. If you made more than $99K (single) or $198K(couples), you don’t get any money from this program.

How do I get that $1200 check as fast as possible?

Did you file 2018 taxes and does IRS have your direct deposit info on file? If so, you’re good to go. If not, here’s what to do:

If you did file in 2018 but the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit info, you’ll need to get that info to them so you don’t have to wait for them to send a paper check. You can do that now here.

If you didn’t file in 2018 (say, for example, you’re low-income, or otherwise not typically required to file) you need to give the IRS some simple information so you can get your check. You can now do that here.

When will that money arrive?

The IRS started making direct deposits the week of April 13. Paper checks won’t start being sent until April 24, and reports indicate some of those checks won’t arrive until September. The current IRS plan for paper checks starts with sending checks to the lowest income taxpayers first. You can check your status here. If the status check didn’t work before, try again now — there have been some technical glitches.

What if I had an unusually lucrative 2018 that resulted in higher gross income than is typical, putting me above the threshold for the full payment?

It’s normal, of course, for music workers’ income to fluctuate widely, but most government systems aren’t built with us in mind. So if your 2019 income is lower but you haven’t filed your 2019 taxes yet, get that 2019 return in ASAP to maximize your shot at getting the full $1200. Note that the IRS is not currently processing paper returns, so file electronically.

What’s the deadline to get the IRS my info to be able to get a check?

They’ll continue to be processing payments through the end of 2020.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

I’ve always heard that freelancers and independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment.

That’s usually the case, but the CARES Act created a special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provision that covers people who aren’t usually eligible. This is a category that includes lots of musicians and music industry workers; folks from across the music industry all rallied to get this provision included in the relief bill; it’s a big deal.

How much should I expect to earn from PUA?

It’s a variable amount set by your state, which may be dependent on your past and any current income. Through July 31, this amount will be supplemented by an additional $600 a week.

How long does it last?

Up to 39 weeks. This is retroactive to the beginning of the outbreak. So you’re covered if you lost your job earlier this year, and you’ll also be covered if you lose work later this year.

How do I apply?

You apply through your state’s employment agency. Every state has a different system, so there may be specific rules about what days of the week you can apply. States have been working to implement new systems to cover self-employed workers, but may not be fully ready to take your application just yet — it depends on the state.

If I’m an independent contractor, should I apply now?

Consult your state’s unemployment website and follow their instructions for independent contractors or people “traditionally not eligible” for UI. Practices differ from state to state — some are telling independent contractors to apply now, while others are saying to wait until the system is updated to accommodate independent contractors.

States that instruct independent contractors to apply now

AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA,CO, CT, DC, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR,PA, RI, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV

States that say independent contractors should wait to apply while agencies update systems:

DE, NV, WY

(corrections & updates are welcome, please make a note in the comments)

What if I have lost multiple kinds of income, including a traditional W2 job, some 1099 music related income, and some cash income from stuff like t-shirt sales and house shows, which I can’t really document?

If you have any lost income from traditional W2 jobs disappearing (say, for example, you lost a restaurant job when the restaurant closed) you can apply for unemployment right now. If you are found eligible you’ll get a state amount plus the $600 additional federal benefit. It’s unclear whether states are capable of including both W2 work and self-employment income in determining your weekly payment amount — they don’t appear to take multiple categories into account at this time, but you should still be eligible for some support. If you are not eligible for regular state unemployment, then you can apply for PUA.

Does my income need to have dropped to zero to be eligible for unemployment benefits?

No. If you’ve lost some work as a result of the coronavirus, you’re eligible for partial unemployment. For example, if a musician’s tour is canceled, they may be still earning from other revenue streams, like royalties, merchandise sales through their website, licensing etc. But you will still be able to apply for unemployment; the weekly amount may be somewhat reduced.

How will weekly amounts be calculated?

It’s not yet entirely clear. States have been instructed to use the calculations that exist for another disaster unemployment program, but that doesn’t give them a lot of detail on how to interpret different kinds of income. Some states have requested further agency guidance.

For a lot of freelancers, it may be the case that rather than bother trying to calculate your freelance income, states are just going to offer 50% of the state average weekly unemployment disbursement and add $600 a week on top of that. We hope to be able to confirm this soon.

What should I do right now?
Consult your state’s Dept of Labor’s website. It may have the most up to date information. Some states have the option to start creating an account and get your info into the system; others have signup options where they will email you when unemployment for independent contractors is ready to go.

And if you live anywhere other than DE,NV, or WY, you can go ahead and apply. If you get a denial, note that this may be just denying you for normal state unemployment as a step towards eligibility for the special PUA benefit.

When will I get my first unemployment check?

Again, it depends on the state. States have the option of waiving the usual one week waiting period before you get the first check. We expect that most will; you can find a list of what each state is doing here.

At the same time the systems are experiencing extremely high volume even before opening up to independent contractors , so you may experience long wait times at call centers, technical outages, etc. If possible, o pt for internet-based applications over telephone contact.

Will I have to look for work and report my job search activities? Do I, like, actually need to be applying for warehouse jobs and stuff right now to be able to collect unemployment?

States have the ability to waive the usual job search requirement for people collecting unemployment during this emergency period. We expect that most if not all states will do so, you can see a running list of what states are doing here.

Additionally, the statute is explicit in instructing that even states that don’t eliminate the job search requirement should exercise discretion, understanding that everyone’s stuck at home and can’t really go look for work. Be aware that many state websites haven’t been updated to reflect that many job search requirements have been waived. If you see a lot of stern warnings saying that if you don’t look for work, you might be guilty of fraud or have to repay benefits, don’t stress over this.

Will unemployment compensation be available retroactively for my tour that was cancelled in March?

Yes, compensation is available retroactively to the beginning of the outbreak.

What if I worked in a bunch of different states?

We’ve asked for federal guidance about what to do about this but none seems to be forthcoming. For now ask your state employment agency.

This is an incredibly overcomplicated way to distribute this money.

Yes, it is.

There’s got to be a better way!

Some proposals put forward in the House would have directed more money to individuals via direct cash payment, rather than funneling that money through state unemployment systems, which are already overburdened by an influx of unemployment claims even before the system is opened up to independent contractors. It’s possible that future relief legislation might include more direct cash payment provisions.

For now, this is what we’ve got to work with, and the amount of money is potentially pretty significant, so to the extent that relief is available, you should go and get it.

SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION LOANS

The CARES Act made multiple loan programs available to small businesses impacted by COVID-19, including Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.

Who could be eligible for these loan programs?

A broad array of small businesses harmed by the coronavirus, including:

Music venues & concert promoters
Nonprofit arts spaces
Independent record stores
LPFM radio stations
Independent labels
Independent music publishers
PR firms
Publicists
Booking agencies
Bands or ensembles incorporated as LLCs
Musicians or other individuals working as independent contractors

How does the PPP loan program work?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has just posted an overview for borrowers, and an example of the loan application form.

You can borrow 2.5 times your monthly payroll (including state & federal taxes), and you can spend that money on payroll, debt, utilities, or rent. The loan can actually be forgiven completely if you spend the loan on payroll and other qualifying expenses, and you keep your employee headcount the same — so it can actually end up being more of a grant than a loan.

Loans are available through June 30, 2020, so apply now.

How do I apply for a PPP loan?

Talk to your local lender. If you already have a relationship with a lender, reach out to them; otherwise talk to your bank. There’s a lot of demand and a high volume of applications, so it’s recommended that you move fast.

How is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan different?

For this program, you apply directly through the SBA, not through a bank. Loans can be as big as $2 million, but you can borrow a maximum of $25,000 without collateral. When you apply for this loan, you can potentially get a $10,000 emergency advance that wouldn’t have to be paid back, but it must be spent according to the guidelines. This may not be a great fit for individual musicians because there are limits on the forgiveness available on a per-employee basis.

You can consult this packet for full info and apply here.

Can I use both loan programs?

Potentially, but note that there’s no doublecounting — you can’t use both a PPP and an EIDL for the same expenses.

If I’m a band working as an LLC or individual musician incorporated as a business, should I try and get an PPP loan to cover payroll expenses? or should everyone apply for unemployment?

It depends on your individual situation, but because the UI benefits can be pretty generous in both amount and length of time, lower overhead operations might be better off going the UI route. Additionally, PPP loans may prove more difficult to get.

HEALTH CARE

I don’t have health insurance and now I’m pretty freaked out.

If your income has dropped below a particular threshold, you may be able to apply for Medicaid. If you make less than 100% to 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and are pregnant, elderly, disabled, a parent/caretaker or a child, you are likely eligible. And if you’re not in those categories, but make less than 133% of the FPL, there’s quite possibly a program for you, depending on whether your state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

You don’t have to wait for an enrollment period to apply for Medicaid. You can apply at any time. You apply directly through your state’s Dept of Health — or you can consult healthcare.gov to get routed there.

You can use this handy calculator tool to see about potential costs, eligibility, and assistance, either through Medicaid or through the Marketplace.

In states that expanded Medicaid, you may qualify for Medicaid if you earn up to $17,236 a year as a single individual or $29,435 for a family of three, while other family sizes can qualify at higher incomes. Medicaid eligibility is usually based on current monthly income, but for people with income that varies over the year, states must consider yearly income if the person wouldn’t be eligible based on monthly income.

Will my unemployment benefits be counted in calculating my eligibility for medicaid?

The normal state unemployment benefits will be counted, but the extra $600/week in pandemic unemployment benefits is not.

I’m self-employed — in calculating my income to see if I’m eligible for Medicaid, can I deduct business expenses?

Generally, yes, you can deduct most business expenses, like music gear, transportation to shows, etc.

Is buying a plan on the marketplace an option?

Usually to get a plan on the marketplace, you have to wait for open enrollment in the fall to sign up for a plan. But eleven states that run their own exchanges have opened up special enrollment periods so you can get enrolled right now. So if you live in one of those states, you may be able to purchase coverage, and if you’ve seen your income go down you may be eligible for a larger subsidy and thus a lower premium than in the past. It’s worth taking a look.

The federal government has the ability to open a special enrollment period in all the states that use the federally-run marketplace. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has announced that they’re not going to do that.

I have an ACA Marketplace plan but my income has dropped due to lost work, and now I don’t know how I’m going to pay my premiums.

Depending on what state you’re in, you may be able to recalculate your subsidy so the government pays a bigger part of your insurance premium. If you are using the federal marketplace, you can do that here: https://www.healthcare.gov/reporting-changes/how-to-report-changes/

Be sure to update this again if/when your income improves, including if you start getting unemployment benefits. That way you won’t have to repay anything in 2021 at tax time.

This too is stupidly overcomplicated and frustrating.

Yes, it is. It’s not a system that’s designed for musicians, who experience fluctuating and somewhat unpredictable income from week to week and month to month, even in normal times.

In the coming weeks, months, and years, we’re going to be fighting for Medicare For All, which would be an infinitely simpler and more humane way to ensure that every music worker gets coverage and care.

This is even more urgent because premiums are expected to go up sharply next year.

ADDITIONAL HELP

Can you help me with my application?

FMC is a very small organization and we don’t have the staff capacity to handle individual cases, unfortunately.

To find a local resource partner for small businesses applying for SBA loans, visit https://www.sba.gov/local-assistance/find/

What are sources for additional relief funds?

Artist Rights Alliance has a running list here
SoundExchange has a running list here
Billboard has a running list here
Creative Capital has a running list here
Music Covid Relief also has some great resources

What are the biggest unmet needs?

There’s been a big emphasis on direct and immediate cash relief for musicians, which has been great to see, but isn’t enough. There’s a clear need for some serious investment from the philanthropic sector and from the music and tech industry in resiliency and infrastructure, including helping musicians through the complicated processes of accessing this new funding.

Future of Music Coalition

www.futureofmusic.org

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