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Bipartisan Package Brings New COVID Relief And More
After months of shifting negotiations and perpetuating stalemates, Congress reached a deal to provide the American public with additional COVID-19 relief. Congressional leadership, comprised of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), announced an agreement on Sunday, December 20 to attach the relief to an end-of-year government spending bill to be voted on Monday, December 21 and signed into law by the president.
Recording Academy Chair & Interim President/CEO Harvey Mason jr. praised Congressional leadership on the new stimulus package, a welcomed sign for many struggling music creators. "The Recording Academy is pleased that Congress heard the call of thousands of music creators and included protections for the music community in the omnibus bill. In addition to extended and improved unemployment benefits and small business loans for freelance creators, the package includes several bills which the Recording Academy, its members, and the larger music community advocated for. From the Save Our Stages Act, which provides a lifeline to performance venues and promoters, to the CASE Act, which creates an avenue for smaller creators to defend their copyrighted works, Congress has ensured that both music creators and those who act behind the scenes to bring music to life are given the support they need during this difficult time."
The package includes $900 billion in COVID-19 relief that will fund many critical provisions to assist struggling creators to survive the enduring financial hardship inflicted by the pandemic:
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Under the agreement, Congress will extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to April 2021, ensuring that self-employed music professionals, gig workers, and freelancers can continue to receive unemployment benefits as long as they are out-of-work. For many music makers with mixed income (a combination of W2/1099 wages), Congress has authorized a new $100 per week bonus payment to offset some of the eligibility complications encountered earlier this year.
In the agreement, Congress also re-imagined the popular Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program and funded it at $300 in additional unemployment benefits per week. The bonus payments will go to all individuals receiving unemployment assistance until mid-March. Finally, the stimulus legislation also includes direct payments of $600 per worker earning less than $75k annually ($150k for a couple).
Small Business Loans
The relief package appropriates $284 billion for both first and second rounds of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. The program, which proved to be wildly popular under the CARES Act, is intended to tether workers to their places of employment, allowing for a quick recovery once regular business operations can resume at pre-pandemic levels. Updated guidance on the PPP program and application is expected to be unveiled soon.
Additionally, the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program will be replenished with $20 billion in new funding, a tool which self-employed workers and small business owners can leverage to pay for expenses. The bill attempts to address the uneven impact of COVID-19 felt by minority-owned businesses and underserved communities by appropriating $3B for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs).
Styled after the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act, the legislation includes $15 billion to support live event venues and other cultural institutions, including museums. This new program, to be administered by the Small Business Administration, will help independent venues survive the enduring impact of the pandemic and ensure live music can return to the stage safely in the future. While the guidance for this program has yet to be published, the Recording Academy will continue to communicate with its members on how to best leverage these programs to assist with immediate needs in the music ecosystem.
End-Of-Year Spending Deal: CASE Act And More
The comprehensive package also have provisions for creators beyond the COVID relief sections.
As part of the omnibus spending deal to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2021, Congressional leaders agreed to include the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act. The bipartisan and bicameral legislation, which already passed the House of Representatives and out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will improve the currently unfair copyright enforcement system by establishing a small claims court for copyright cases through a three-"judge" tribunal within the U.S. Copyright Office. A big win for creators, the CASE Act levels the playing field by driving down the high cost of federal litigation. The bill also increases funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and includes a new provision to treat commercial, large-scale illicit streaming as a felony—helping crack down on rampant online copyright infringement operations like stream-ripping websites.
Before this funding deal was solidified, many crucial programs in the CARES Act were on track to sunset at the conclusion of the calendar year. Aware of the burden this would cause on creators, the Recording Academy launched a campaign to call on Congress to pass additional financial relief for creators and small businesses before the holiday recess. The activation has already resulted in thousands of letters and hundreds of calls being sent to elected officials.
This new compromised solution is a step in the right direction for creators, but Congress' work on COVID-19 is not done. Once the legislative body returns in January to start the 117th Congress, focus must be shifted to establishing long-term solutions to ensure a full recovery once the lockdowns are lifted. These long-term solutions include the passage of the RESTART and HITS Acts, implementation of critical DMCA reform, and establishment of a performance right for sound recordings broadcast by terrestrial (AM/FM) radio.