Actors’ Equity Association is calling for federal COBRA subsidies for health insurance as a new report shows skyrocketing unemployment claims by arts and entertainment workers in New York because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
The New York State Department of Labor reports that arts and entertainment workers accounted for 14,480 new unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 28 – up 3,880% compared to last year, making it the industry with the third-highest increase of claims in the state.
“This astronomic rise in arts workers requiring unemployment insurance is a sign that we need further action to protect those losing work as the theater industry has shut down,” said Equity executive director Mary McColl, who called the recent passage of $2 trillion CARES Act “a crucial first step for protecting affected workers.”
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“But this report from the Department of Labor shows that more must be done to ensure the survival of artists and arts communities,” she said. “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% COBRA subsidy to ensure that no one loses their health care in the middle of a pandemic.”
Equity members’ health insurance is tied to how many weeks out of the year they work under the union’s contract. Members who work at least 19 weeks qualify for one year of health insurance coverage. Members who work at least 11 weeks on an Equity contract can qualify for six months of coverage.
COBRA is a health insurance program that allows eligible employees and their dependents to continue receiving health coverage due to job losses or reductions in work hours. During the 2008 financial crisis, the federal government offered COBRA subsidies to workers who were laid off through no fault of their own.