Movies

House Passes $1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Bill; What Showbiz Can Expect

UPDATE: The House of Representatives early on Saturday passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, a Covid-19 relief and recovery bill that would be Joe Biden’s first legislative achievement if it reaches his desk.

The massive piece of spending legislation now goes to the Senate.

The bill passed narrowly in the House, 219-212. Two Democrats, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jared Golden of Maine, joined with all Republicans in voting against it.

PREVIOUSLY: The House of Representatives is expected to pass the American Rescue Plan tonight, an initial step toward giving Joe Biden his first major legislative achievement.

The $1.9 trillion bill will likely draw few Republican votes, but Democrats have touted its popularity with the broader public, particularly those looking for additional Covid-19 relief.

That includes much of the entertainment workforce, which throughout the pandemic has had to depend on Washington to address the unique nature of industry employment: So many are independent contractors and freelancers, and they fall outside the scope of regular benefits like unemployment.

The legislation makes huge outlays for testing and vaccine distribution, but, like other Covid-19 relief bills, also focuses on workers and businesses who have been hardest hit.

Here’s what’s in the House bill:

Unemployment benefits. Increases the weekly benefit from an extra $300 to $400; extends benefits through Aug. 29; Gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors would continue to be eligible.

Housing assistance. About $30 billion would be provided in rental assistance and $10 billion for mortgage relief.

Paid leave and employee retention. Companies would be eligible for tax credits if they offer paid leave to their employees. The legislation also would extend an employee retention tax credit.

Direct payments. Financial assistance would be increased by $1,400, added to the $600 that Congress passed in December.

State and local governments. The bill includes $350 billion to help states and local governments make up for budget shortfalls. A concern among studios has been that lawmakers seeking to trim their budgets will target state movie and TV production incentives.

Minimum wage. The House bill includes a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, the first boost since 2009, when it was set at $7.25. But it’s doubtful that the provision will survive when the bill goes to the Senate. The parliamentarian ruled on Thursday a minimum wage increase could not be included in the bill, as Democrats are seeking to pass the legislation by simple majority, in a process known as reconciliation. Otherwise, it would take 60 votes to overcome a filibuster threat.

The arts. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would each get $135 million in emergency relief for direct grants, and to state and regional organizations seeking to recover from funding shortfalls.

Small and medium sized businesses. The Covid-19 bill that passed in December singled out live venues and movie theaters for $15 billion in relief; this legislation would target $25 billion to restaurants and bars that saw a huge drop off in sales. The last bill also expanded eligibility of newspapers and TV stations for key small- and medium- sized business loan program, the Paycheck Protection Program; this legislation extends that eligibility for PPP loans for digital media companies.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration also announced a separate effort that may boost relief to self-employed workers in entertainment and other industries. It is changing the way that it calculates how much sole proprietors, independent contractors and gig workers can receive in PPP loans. The formula was a multiple of a self-employed person’s net profits, according to CNBC. Now the calculation will be via gross income. That’s a significant difference, given that so many of the self-employed break even or report a loss on their taxes after calculating expenses. The Small Business Administration also has established an exclusive two-week period, through March 10, for the smallest of businesses (fewer than 20 employees) to apply for the PPP loans.

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