On Wednesday night, the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The legislation for the stimulus package now moves to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass in a vote on Friday morning. If approved, the bill would then go to the desk of President Trump to be signed into law. (The text of the bill is here.)
The plan includes numerous steps meant to ease the economic fallout from COVID-19, including direct payments to individuals, a grace period for student loan payments, and billions of dollars for hospitals. A few of the provisions could be particularly significant for songwriters and musicians, and industry groups including ASCAP and the Recording Industry Association of America have applauded the bill’s passage. Here’s a breakdown of how the stimulus package might help the music community through a uniquely challenging time.
The Senate bill would add as much as $600 a week to existing unemployment benefits. Eligible workers could receive these benefits for an extra 13 weeks, for a total of up to 39 weeks, depending on the state. Crucially, the bill would expand unemployment benefits to more people than are usually eligible for them, including part-time workers and the self-employed, which could benefit the many musicians who operate without traditional employment or rely on hourly jobs to pay the rent.
The bill would also apply to future projects that won’t happen now because of coronavirus, with a provision covering workers who were “scheduled to commence employment” when the outbreak began. That’s good news for musicians whose concerts and recording sessions have been canceled due to COVID-19. RIAA CEO Mitch Glazier said in a statement, “Access to this expanded unemployment insurance will ensure that hundreds of thousands of musicians’ families across the country can continue to… put food on the table.”
Small Business Loans
The stimulus package would provide more than $370 million in loans to small businesses to pay for basic expenses, which could apply to record stores, independent venues, small labels, and other music businesses. Business owners who maintain their workforce during the outbreak would not have to repay loan money used on payroll, mortgages, rent, or utilities. Self-employed small business owners, a category that includes many musicians, would also be eligible.
The eight weeks of financial aid would be retroactive to February 15, which could help businesses rehire workers they’ve been forced to lay off. Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, said in a statement, “We cannot overstate the importance of federal relief now being available for the music industry professionals who have already been devastated by the results of the coronavirus.”
Arts and Broadcasting Funding
The bill also sets aside money for arts, humanities, and public broadcasting. Under the Senate legislation, the National Endowment for the Arts—which President Trump has tried to cut from budget proposals throughout his term, and which has seen its funding drop under a Republican-led Congress—would receive $75 million. The National Endowment for the Humanities would get another $75 million. These two federal programs pass on their funding through grants to local arts and humanities groups.
The bill also contains $75 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to support local noncommercial radio and TV stations. It also provides $25 million for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which closed earlier this month and is not scheduled to reopen until May 10 or later.