March 28, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

I offer you and your families my very best as these extremely difficult times continue. Most of you are aware of the actions today in Washington D.C. It’s a bit of hope financially, and a needed lift of all spirits. THE FOLLOWING IS A SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT OF INFORMATION TO READ, BUT I URGE YOU TO CONSIDER READING IT TILL THE END FOR YOUR BENEFIT AND THE BENEFIT OF YOUR FAMILY’S, MY FRIENDS.

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. President approved the “Phase Three” Coronavirus Relief Bill yesterday. You might have reviewed the letters of appeal that I sent to Congressman Tom Suozzi and Senator Charles Schumer this past Monday on behalf of Local One. Our letters requested adjustments to the Phase Three financial relief package to fit the uniqueness of Local One’s employment, and the dire need as soon as possible, for expanded financial assistance for our membership and all entertainment workers. I am pleased and proud to provide news of success, and all that “Phase Three” provides below. It includes the additional $600 a week on top of New York State’s tabulated employment benefit (for all U.S. states as well). The link below helps better explain “Phase Three’s” unemployment insurance benefits, and at the end of this communication, answers to most relevant questions and concerns for our membership and our industry.

What you need to know about unemployment benefits in the coronavirus relief bill

Last week, Local One also joined in the effort with its contacts in Washington D.C., and it gained national momentum to have the IRS waive the 10% excise tax, an early withdrawal penalty on Union Annuities and 401k’s for people under fifty-nine and a half years old. New York Congressman Tom Suozzi is a great ally of Local One’s, and his efforts along with the support of the IATSE’s Legislative Director, achieved this major savings for our members who do choose to make a withdrawal per our Trust Funds Hardship Annuity distribution. This IRS waiver is included in the “Phase Three” finances relief package, along with the IATSE’s initiative to provide “Gig Workers & Creative Professionals” unemployed by the pandemic, eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. 

Many of you have chosen to take advantage of the Annuity Hardship distribution option offered by the Local One Trust Fund. I fully realize it’s not ideal to withdraw from our Annuity savings, but it serves as a financial lifeline option for many members who have few or no other options. I’m extremely proud that our Annuity Hardship distribution option was unanimously amended by all six Local One Fund Trustees, Trustees McDonough, Score and I are grateful for the cooperation and compassion of all three of our employer Fund Trustees who agreed that our appeal to them was necessary as an option for participants consideration. Our Trust Fund Administrator Scott Cool should also be commended for all his fine efforts. The Union and The Local One Trust Fund continue to do all it can to offer support to our brothers and sisters. Please see the link below, that helps explain “Phase Three’s” Coronavirus Financial Relief Bill’s stimulus package. 

CONGRESS PASSES “CARES” ACT PROVIDING IMMEDIATE ECONOMIC RELIEF FOR ENTERTAINMENT WORKERS

News reports highlight increased Coronavirus spread, sickness, deaths and related strains on medical staffs and facilities. Governor Cuomo and Governor Murphy have each submitted directives to “Stay at Home” and to maintain “Social Distancing” that is designed to slow the spread. It will help allow everyone better access to medical assistance throughout the pandemic. Please follow these protocols. The faster medical professionals can achieve more certainty on an ability to treat everyone, along with proper facilities needed, the faster our lives will return to normal.  

I stress to you all as I have said from the beginning, unless you continue to be paid by an employer, you should definitely file for unemployment insurance. PLEASE NOTE VACATION CHECKS RECENTLY RELEASED AT THE UNION’S REQUEST have all accumulated Vacation Earnings from your past weeks of employment and pre-taxed in your prior weeks of service. Unless you receive a contractual “weekly vacation check” that is taxed similar to “current weeks” earnings, your vacation check “does not disqualify” you for your weekly unemployment benefit. If anybody has any questions regarding vacation checks released now or in the following weeks, do not hesitate to contact me for clarification. The Union does not want a single Local One member to lose a penny of unemployment.

We’re all in this crisis together brothers and sisters. Together we will do our very best to get through this. PLEASE READ THE ANSWERS BELOW MY MESSAGE TO MOST LIKELY QUESTIONS. Take care of yourself and your families. Be safe and be well. 

In Solidarity, 

James J. Claffey Jr.

President

Local One I.A.T.S.E.

 

STIMULUS CHECKS, UNEMPLOYMENT, CORONAVIRUS BILL

The Senate relief bill would send money to Americans and greatly expand unemployment coverage.

March 26, 2020 

The Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion economic rescue plan on Wednesday that will offer assistance to tens of millions of American households affected by the coronavirus. Its components include stimulus payments to individuals, expanded unemployment coverage, student loan changes, different retirement account rules and more. 

ANSWERS TO MOST LIKELY QUESTIONS:

Frequently asked questions and advice about life under the coronavirus.

The House of Representatives was expected to quickly take up the bill and pass it, sending it to President Trump for his signature. 

Here are the answers to common questions about what’s in the bill. Updates will be provided as more answers come in, or if the plan changes as it moves through the legislative process. More information on getting assistance can be found at our Hub for Help

Stimulus Payments 

How large would the payments be?

Most adults would get $1,200, although some would get less. For every qualifying child age 16 or under, the payment would be an additional $500. 

How many payments would there be?

Just one. Future bills could order up additional payments, though. 

How do I know if I will get the full amount?

It depends on your income. Single adults with Social Security numbers who are United States residents and have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less would get the full amount. Married couples with no children earning $150,000 or less would receive a total of $2,400. And taxpayers filing as head of household would get the full payment if they earned $112,500 or less. 

Above those income figures, the payment decreases until it stops altogether for single people earning $99,000 or married people who have no children and earn $198,000. According to the Senate Finance Committee, a family with two children would no longer be eligible for any payments if its income surpassed $218,000. 

You can’t get a payment if someone claims you as a dependent, even if you’re an adult. In any given family and in most instances, everyone must have a valid Social Security number in order to be eligible. There is an exception for members of the military. 

You can find your adjusted gross income on Line 8b of the 2019 1040 federal tax return. 

Do college students get anything?

Not if anyone claims them as a dependent on a tax return. Usually, students under age 24 are dependents in the eyes of the taxing authorities if a parent pays for at least half of their expenses. 

What year’s income should I be looking at?

2019. If you haven’t prepared a tax return yet, you can use your 2018 return. If you haven’t filed that yet, you can use a 2019 Social Security statement showing your income to see what an employer reported to the I.R.S. 

What if my recent income made me ineligible, but I anticipate being eligible because of a loss of income in 2020? Do I get a payment?

The bill does not help people in that circumstance now, but you may benefit once you file your 2020 taxes. That’s because the payment is technically an advance on a tax credit that is available for the entire year. So, it will depend on how much you earn. 

Meanwhile, there are many other provisions in the legislation. You may be able to file for unemployment or for one of the new loans for small-business owners or sole proprietors. 

Would I have to apply to receive a payment?

No. If the Internal Revenue Service already has your bank account information, it would transfer the money to you via direct deposit based on the recent income-tax figures it already has. 

When would the payment arrive?

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he expected most people to get their payments within three weeks. 

If my payment doesn’t come soon, how can I be sure that it wasn’t misdirected?

According to the bill, you would get a paper notice in the mail no later than a few weeks after your payment had been disbursed. That notice would contain information about where the payment ended up and in what form it was made. If you couldn’t locate the payment at that point, it would be time to contact the I.R.S. using the information on the notice. 

What if I haven’t filed tax returns recently? Would that affect my ability to receive a payment?

It could. File a return immediately, at least for 2018, according to the I.R.S. website. “Those without 2018 tax filings on record could potentially affect mailings of stimulus checks,” the site says. 

If you’re worried about money that you owe that you cannot pay, the I.R.S. recommends consulting a tax professional who can help you request an alternative payment plan or some other resolution. 

Would most people who are receiving Social Security retirement and disability payments each month also get a stimulus payment?

Yes. 

Would eligible unemployed people get these stimulus payments? Veterans?

Yes, and yes. 

Do I have to pay income taxes on the amount of my payment?

No. 

If my income tax refunds are currently being garnished because of a student loan default, would this payment be garnished as well?

No. In fact, the bill temporarily suspends nearly all efforts to garnish tax refunds to repay debts, including those to the I.R.S. itself. But this waiver may not apply to people who are behind on child support. 

Unemployment Benefits 

Who would be covered by the expanded program?

The new bill would wrap in far more workers than are usually eligible for unemployment benefits, including self-employed people and part-time workers. The bottom-line: Those who are unemployed, are partly unemployed or cannot work for a wide variety of coronavirus-related reasons would be more likely to receive benefits. 

How much would I receive?

It depends on your state. 

Benefits would be expanded in a bid to replace the average worker’s paycheck, explained Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a public policy research group. The average worker earns about $1,000 a week, and unemployment benefits often replace roughly 40 to 45 percent of that. The expansion would pay an extra amount to fill the gap. 

Under the plan, eligible workers would get an extra $600 per week on top of their state benefit. But some states are more generous than others. According to the Century Foundation, the maximum weekly benefit for New York is $504, but it’s $713 in New Jersey. 

So, let’s say a worker was making $1,100 per week in New York; he or she would be eligible for maximum state unemployment benefit of $504 per week. Under the new program, he or she gets an additional $600 of federal pandemic unemployment compensation, for a total of $1,104, essentially replacing the original paycheck.

Are gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors covered in the bill?

Yes, self-employed people would be newly eligible for unemployment benefits. 

Benefit amounts would be calculated based on previous income, using a formula from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program

What if I’m a part-time worker who lost my job because of a coronavirus reason, but my state doesn’t cover part-time workers? Would I still be eligible?

Yes. Part-time workers would be eligible for benefits, but the benefit amount and how long benefits would last depend on your state. They would also be eligible for the additional $600 weekly benefit. 

What if I have Covid-19 or need to care for a family member who has it?

If you’ve received a diagnosis, are experiencing symptoms or are seeking a diagnosis — and you’re unemployed, are partly unemployed or cannot work as a result — you would be covered. The same goes if you must care for a member of your family or household who has received a diagnosis. 

What if my child’s school or day care shut down?

If you rely on a school, a day care or another facility to care for a child, elderly parent or another household member so that you can work — and that facility has been shut down because of coronavirus — you would be eligible. 

What if I’ve been advised by a health care provider to quarantine myself because of exposure to coronavirusAnd what about broader orders to stay home?

People who must self-quarantine would be covered. The legislation also says that individuals who are unable to get to work because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the outbreak would also be eligible.

My employer shut down my workplace because of coronavirus. Would I be eligible?

Yes. If you are unemployed, partly unemployed or unable to work because your employer closed down, you would be covered under the bill. 

The breadwinner of my household has died as a result of coronavirus. I relied on that person for income, and I’m not working. Would that be covered?

Yes.

Whom would the bill leave out?

Workers who are able to work from home, and those receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave would not be covered. New entrants to the work force who cannot find jobs would also be ineligible. 

How long would the payments last?

Many states already provide 26 weeks of benefits, though some states have trimmed that back while others provide a sliding scale tied to unemployment levels. 

The bill would provide all eligible workers with an additional 13 weeks. So, participants in states with 26 weeks would be eligible for a total of 39 weeks. The total amount cannot exceed 39 weeks, but it may be shorter in certain states. 

The extra $600 payment would last for up to four months, covering weeks of unemployment ending July 31. 

How long would the broader program last?

Expanded coverage would be available to workers who were newly eligible for unemployment benefits for weeks starting on Jan. 27, 2020, and through Dec. 31, 2020. 

I’m already receiving unemployment benefits. Would I receive any help?

Yes. Even if you’re already receiving unemployment benefits for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus, your state-level benefits would still be extended by 13 weeks. You would also receive the extra $600 weekly benefit from the federal government. 

My unemployment recently ran out — could I sign up again?

Yes. If you’ve exhausted your benefits, eligible workers could generally reapply. But how much you would get and for how long would depend on the state where you worked. Everyone would get at least another 13 weeks, along with the extra $600 payment. 

Would this income disqualify me from any other programs?

Maybe. The additional $600 benefit would count as income when determining eligibility for means-tested programs, except for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. 

How long would I need to wait for benefits?

States have been incentivized to waive the one-week waiting period, but it’s unclear how long it would take to process claims — especially with state offices so strained by a flood of claims. 

Student Loans

The federal government has already waived two months of payments and interest for many federal student loan borrowers. Is there a bigger break now with the new bill?

Yes. Until Sept. 30, there will be automatic payment suspensions for any student loan held by the federal government. It is hard to contact many of the loan servicers right now, so check your account online in the coming weeks. Once you are logged in, look for the current amount due. There, you should be able to see if the servicer has reset its billing systems so that you are showing no payment due. 

How do I know if my loan is eligible?

If you’ve borrowed money from the federal government — a so-called direct loan — in the past 10 years, you’re definitely eligible. According to the Institute for College Access & Success, 90 percent of loans (in dollar terms) will be eligible. 

Older Federal Family Educational Loans (F.F.E.L.) that the U.S. Department of Education does not own would not be eligible, nor would Perkins loans, loans from state agencies, or loans from private lenders like Discover, Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo. The holders of all those kinds of loans may be offering their own assistance programs. 

Within a few weeks of the bill becoming law, you are supposed to receive notice indicating what has happened with your federal loans. You can choose to keep paying down your principal if you want. Then, after Aug. 1, you should get multiple notices letting you know about the cessation of the suspension period and that you may be eligible to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan.

Will my loan servicer charge me interest during the six-month period?

The bill says that interest “shall not accrue” on the loan during the suspension period. 

At the end of the suspension, keep a close eye on what your loan servicer does (or does not do) to put you back into your previous repayment mode. Servicer errors are common. 

Will the six-month suspension cost me money, since I’m trying to qualify for the public service loan forgiveness program by making 120 monthly payments?

No. The legislation says that your payment count will still go up by one payment each month during the six-month suspension, even though you will not actually be making any payments. This is true for all forgiveness or loan-rehabilitation programs.

Is wage garnishment that resulted from being behind on my loan payments suspended during this six-month period?

Yes. So is the seizure of tax refunds, the reduction of any other federal benefit payments and other involuntary collection efforts.

Retirement Accounts

What if I have to take money out of my I.R.A. or workplace retirement plan early?

While the Local One Trust Fund recently offers up to $30,000 for a hardship distribution, the law allows a withdrawal up to $100,000 this year, without the usual 10 percent excise tax, as long as it’s due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

You would also be able to spread out any income taxes that you owe over three years from the date you took the distribution. And if you want, you could put the money back into the account before those three years are up, even though the rules may normally keep you from making a contribution that large. 

This exception applies only to coronavirus-related withdrawals. You qualify if you tested positive, a spouse or dependent did or you experienced a variety of other negative economic consequences related to the pandemic. Employers could allow workers to self-certify that they are qualified to pull money from a workplace retirement account.

Other Features of the Bill 

Would there be damage to my credit report if I took advantage of any virus-related payment relief, including the student loan suspension?

No. There is not supposed to be, at least. 

The bill states that during the period beginning on Jan. 31 and continuing 120 days after the cessation of the national emergency declaration, lenders and others should mark your credit file as current, even if you avail yourself of payment modifications.

Is there any relief for renters in the bill?

Yes. The bill would put a temporary, nationwide eviction moratorium in place for any renters whose landlords have mortgages backed or owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other federal entities. This will last for 120 days after the bill passes, and landlords also can’t charge any fees or penalties for nonpayment of rent.

Did the legislation make it illegal for any internet provider to cut off service to an individual or small business that can’t pay its bills?

No. 

Did the legislation make it illegal for utility providers to cut off service?

No.

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