Freelance Union, film and media coalition urge feds to support “hard hit” workforce

The Freelancers Union and a coalition of 25 independent film and media groups have sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advocating for more support for freelancers under federal aid ...
April 22, 2020

The Freelancers Union and a coalition of 25 independent film and media groups have sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advocating for more support for freelancers under federal aid packages. 

In a letter sent Tuesday (April 21) to McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the organization and coalition members are urging that any replenishment to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) include stipulations that ensure freelances qualify for funding.

The union stated in a release the PPP could offer a “critical lifeline” to the country’s freelance and self-employed workers by providing forgivable loans to cover payroll and business expenses.

Freelancers were able to apply for PPP loans April 10, one week after applications opened to small businesses, offering a window of four business days before the Small Business Association (SBA) announced it would be closing applications due to lack of funding, the union stated.

The coalition is calling on congress to take a number of actions, including earmarking funding specifically for self-employed and independent contractors who are “underbanked and underserved” by government relief programs.

It is also requesting the federal government set aside and guarantee 50% of loans for minority sole proprietors, and require SBA lenders to process all applications, banning rules that require existing relationships with lending institutions.

Other requests include opening the next round of funding first to independent workers and self-employed individuals, and requiring SBA to publish data on the size of businesses receiving loans, including a breakout of loans awarded to self-employed and independent contractors.

Related: Weathering the storm: Freelancers navigate ‘scary time’ as productions shut down

The signatories as a group represent and support freelancers in independent media who have been “particularly hard hit,” the Freelancers Union stated in a release.

More than 80% of freelancers surveyed by the union reported that they had lost “thousands of dollars” in wages because of the COVID-19 shutdowns, with “no reprieve for paying ongoing business expenses.”

“A significant number of independent media makers and documentary filmmakers operate as freelancers,” said Simon Kilmurry, executive director of the International Documentary Association, in a statement. “We have heard from thousands of those makers that their businesses have been shut down and that they have been shut out of the initial round of PPP. It is imperative that any new federal aid under PPP prioritize freelancers.”

Rafael Espinal, president of the Freelancers Union, added: “I have heard from freelancers across the country who have lost gigs due to COVID-19. They’re unsure of how they will be able to pay the bills and the majority have yet to receive any of the relief created in the Cares Act. We need to ensure that the Paycheck Protection Program includes the millions of independent workers that drive our cities and country forward.”

In addition to Kilmurry and Espinal, signatories include: Justine Nagan, executive director of American Documentary; Bonni Cohen, Lisa Kleiner Chanoff and Megan Gelstein of Catapult Film Fund; Bryn Mooser, CEO of XTR Films; Maxyne Franklin, director of Doc Society; Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent; Marcia Smith, president of Firelight Media; Jolene Pinder, executive director of Kartemquin Films; Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute; and Amy Hobby, executive director of Tribeca Film Institute, among many others.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news editor at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joined the RS team in 2015 with experience in journalism following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and with communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.