Actors’ Equity Calls for Federal COBRA Subsidies for Health Insurance as New Report Shows Skyrocketing Unemployment Claims for Arts Workers

New York -- Actors’ Equity Association released the following statement after the New York State Department of Labor reported that arts and entertainment workers accounted for 14,480 new unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 28, 2020, alone. These claims are up an astounding 3,880 percent compared to last year, making it the industry with the third-highest increase of claims in the state.

From Mary McColl, Executive Director, Actors’ Equity Association

"This astronomic rise in arts workers requiring unemployment insurance is a sign that we need further action to protect those losing work as the theatre industry has shut down. The CARES Acts was a crucial first step for protecting affected workers, including increasing access to unemployment insurance and increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. But this report from the Department of Labor shows that more must be done to ensure the survival of artists and arts communities. 

“Equity members are proud to earn their health insurance one week at a time. But the longer the industry is shut down, the more Equity members will be at risk of losing their coverage – to say nothing of members who planned to qualify for health insurance this year because they accepted an offer of work. It is time for Congress to consider a 100 percent COBRA subsidy to ensure that no one loses their health care in the middle of a pandemic.” 

Background: During the 2008 financial crisis, the federal government offered COBRA subsidies to workers who were laid off through no fault of their own. Equity members' health insurance is normally tied to how many weeks out of the year they work on contract. Members who work at least 11 weeks on an Equity contract can qualify for 6 months of coverage through Equity-League Benefit Funds, a separate nonprofit organization jointly managed by trustees of the union and employers. Members who work at least 19 weeks qualify for 1 year of health insurance coverage. 

Actors’ Equity first made the public case for emergency relief for arts and entertainment workers on March 11, when news reports emerged that Washington state and others would limit public gatherings. Equity quickly mobilized to partner with other arts and entertainment unions to make the case to key members of Congress for relief for arts and entertainment workers during this unprecedented crisis.

Since then, Equity members have sent more than 27,000 letters to their members of Congress seeking relief. Equity has also partnered with the Coalition of Broadway Unions (COBUG) to seek relief for members in New York State, as well as launched the Curtain Up Fund with The Actors Fund to raise money for members in need.

ACTORS' EQUITY ASSOCIATION, founded in 1913, is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits (health and pension included). Member: AFL-CIO, FIA.  #EquityWorks

April 6, 2020