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The CARES Act: A Retrospective One Year Later
On March 27, 2020, after significant input and backing by the Recording Academy and other organizations, Congress intervened to bolster a cratering economy by passing the bipartisan and bicameral Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. A $2 trillion stimulus package, the CARES Act was designed to temporarily stabilize the economy and safeguard ties between workers and their employers, including those in the music industry. Now more than one year into the pandemic, let’s look back and celebrate the CARES Act on the first anniversary of its passage, which has proved to be a pivotal lifeline for many music creators.
The CARES Act established innovative relief programs, extended unemployment insurance eligibility to music creators historically excluded from assistance, and appropriated funds to directly support the arts community. With input from the Recording Academy, Congress implemented the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to provide relief for self-employed workers and small businesses, passed an unprecedented and historic expansion of unemployment benefits, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), for gig workers, freelancers, and other self-employed music professionals, and appropriated $75 million in supplemental funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. These programs, and more, gave direct influx of cash to music creators and small businesses at the onset of the pandemic.
Amongst the initial rush of implementation of the CARES Act, many music creators questioned how to best navigate this new relief programs. Recognizing the need for greater assistance within the music ecosystem, the Recording Academy hosted a webinar on how to best navigate the relief landscape and established the “CARES Act Hotline” to answer individual questions. These resources directly assisted hundreds of music creators to accurately apply for a PPP loan and navigate complex unemployment insurance scenarios.
Future advocacy work then focused on fixing technical problems as they were identified. For example, many “mixed earners,” those with both traditional and freelance income, found themselves to be ineligible for certain unemployment programs due to oversights included in the CARES Act and the antiquated state unemployment systems. Additionally, many small businesses had difficulty accessing PPP money before the program exhausted funding.
The Recording Academy identified solutions to many of these problems, and shifted gears to ensure relief truly worked for the music ecosystem. Many of these proposed technical corrections were passed as standalone bills, included in subsequent relief packages, or addressed administratively, including extending the PPP application window, establishing a supplemental fund for mixed earners, and improving the PPP formula for self-employed workers, among others.
And as chronicled by Billboard, the Recording Academy and its members didn’t stop with short-term fixes but continued to advocate for long-term solutions to ensure a full recovery for music creators. As part of a year-end spending deal, the Recording Academy and its allies in the music ecosystem secured funding for several creator-friendly legislative priorities, including expanding pandemic unemployment assistance programs for eligible self-employed workers, establishing a $15 billion supplemental fund to assist live music venues, and replenishing SBA loan programs for independent contractors and small businesses, among others. The Academy and its members also managed to secure necessary guidance changes and funding for the SBA relief programs, and an additional extension of unemployment programs for gig workers, self-employed individuals, and mixed earners as part of the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law in March 2021.
This past year has proven to be physically, emotionally, and mentally difficult for all Americans, and music creators have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. Unable to access traditional income streams and distant from their community, many creators have been left wondering where their next paycheck will originate from or when their next opportunity to reunite with their beloved bandmates will occur. While this year has tested the entire music ecosystem, our ability to stand united behind a shared cause has resulted in tremendous legislative accomplishments.
While our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic started with the CARES Act, we must continue to pressure Congress in support of long-term solutions geared at recovery, including securing the passage of the HITS Act and ensuring the swift implementation of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. As always, the Recording Academy and its members will continue to champion legislative solutions to establish a more equitable and creator-friendly music ecosystem.