How to Get Paid: Navigating Financial Relief Programs

Financial Relief Programs for Musicians & Artists, Restaurant Workers, and Related Gig Economies Suffering from COVID-19 

By HM Lyotard 

The age of the gig is on pause for a little while, ladies and gentleman. With over 22 million now applying for some form of unemployment in the United States, nearing 18% of the population, you’d be hard pressed to find someone not ready to retroactively give Bernie Sanders the keys to the Fed and start a raised, hydroponic garden bed on their apartment balcony. 

In all seriousness, the labor force is getting the literal rug ripped out from underneath and it would be nothing short of a miracle for these economies to rebound unscathed. Perhaps the most conventionally “non-essential” members of those economies, the gig, service, and arts industries, are all suffering incalculable losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fortunately, we can be grateful for the many small miracles we have around us that just might help us get by even if our masters cannot. To that effect, below you will find as comprehensive a resource as I could possibly compile of the many programs and funds standing by to help those of you in these industries try and weather this virus’ economic onslaught.

Music, film, and arts

A lot of services are available to you if you are an out-of-work artist right now regardless of specific discipline or notoriety; the only thing that matters is if your art was helping you pay your bills and it’s not anymore because of the pandemic. 

The most broad-sweeping and generous is arguably the Artist Relief fund which is looking to give out $5,000 grants to any working artist suffering from financial emergency that has been in the US for the past two years, is over 21, and continues to show commitment to their craft as their profession. 

In a similar vein, the Musicians Foundation is offering $300-5,000 grants for any musician whose art has been their primary means of income for at least 5 years. Equal Sound is also offering full or partial reimbursement for gig revenue for those who have lost work as a result of postponed or cancelled shows. 

For those artists who’ve been afflicted with sudden hospitalization or treatment as a result of COVID-19, the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) has teamed up with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to provide one-time, $5,000 grants for any working artist in the US hit by unexpected medical bills.

The Motion Picture and Television Fund has also tasked itself with offering relief to all workers in film & TV who are out of work right now and continues to broaden its eligibility criteria to get assistance to all those in need. The adult film industry also has resources available with the Free Speech Coalition establishing their emergency fund to lend a hand to all adult film workers.

Even the many facets of visual art have various groups interested in helping them provide for themselves if unable to work because of COVID-19 or facing sales losses as a result. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has reallocated additional funds to dozens of regional groups available to give, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts is providing direct financial grants, and The Artists Fellowship is also providing grants for emergency medical funding to any visual artist currently or previously hospitalized as a result of the virus. 

Not forgetting about the craft arts such as painters, sculptors, and the various printmaking fields, the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation is continuing its grant program but only if the illness itself has affected your ability to work. Novelists, too have an ally in the Carnegie Fund for Authors if sickness has prevented them from meeting deadlines or earning income.

To my friends in Houston, also be sure to check out the Houston Music Foundation emergency relief fund that has been established to give up to $500 to Houston musicians and related workers immediately. Otherwise, keep up to date with the programs and funds available around the country and in your area with resource sites like Grantspace, Creative-Capital, the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition, and the community-sourced COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resource.

Restaurant/bar employees

While many restaurants and food service businesses have been able to maintain some of their typical revenue through to-go orders or re-tooling their entire business model as emergency kitchens or pop-up markets, not everyone has been as fortunate. Even in the best case scenario many cooks, servers, bartenders, and other staff find themselves without shifts to cover or no place for them in these reimagined enterprises. Thankfully, there is help.

At the forefront, three organizations stand out above the rest: Restaurant Strong, a partnership between Samuel Adams beer company and the Greg Hill Foundation, has already raised $3 million and is dividing it equal to industry workers across the county. Restaurant Opportunities Center United and Restaurant Workers Community Foundation — a partnership with Houston’s very own, Southern Smoke, who themselves have already given away over $700,000 to the greater Houston area — have also announced funds to divide much in the same fashion.

Looking beyond the kitchen crew itself, Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE) is a longstanding fund meant to support families of restaurant workers during times of emergency, and this is obviously no exception. Be advised, for the time being they can only help you if you or someone in your family has been specifically diagnosed with COVID-19. 

To our bar and general hospitality friends without a soul to save, there are few groups trying to look out for yours. The United States Bartending Guild and Another Round Another Rally have both stepped up to offer emergency relief to bar workers and hospitality industry folks who need it fucking yesterday.

Freelance and gig economy workers

Lest I be accused of not looking out for everybody who finds themselves unable to put food on the table right now, there are a few more services around for whoever else I missed in the greater freelance and gig economy that are out of a paycheck.

Important I think it is first to refer back to the aforementioned COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resource as there’s a great chance they’ve got a line on someone who can throw a few bones your way, quickly. 

There are also funds being established by The Workers Lab and Freelancers Union available to help out those in disparate gigs or working low-rate contracts who aren’t being recognized by the rest of the groundswell of relief programs and emergency funds that are being tapped almost as quickly as they’re being funded.

Gubmint services

Of course, we would just be remiss if we didn’t mention what the ole’ reliable United States Federal Government was up to that might be of some service to you right now. 

At the top of the list is the $1,200, government services equivalent of a bribe, that may or may not be showing up in your bank account or mailbox in the next week to 6 months. The thing to note here is that you must have paid your taxes in 2018 or 2019 to qualify without any other required action but if you didn’t do that, relax! Head to the IRS’ Economic Impact Payments portal and get started on your lawfully required civic duty today to still be eligible (if the portal decides to work for you, that is).

If you’re a business owner, or just by virtue of how you make money doing what you do all by your damn self you own a “business”, you might also be eligible for newly, hot-off-the-money-machine loans from the Treasury in the form of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) or Paycheck Protection Program loans (PPP)

These are meant to provide low-interest, long-term loans (some which are forgivable, as is the case for the PPP) to business owners who are suffering revenue loss and to safeguard payroll for their employees and are absolutely worth considering. More importantly, and frankly surprisingly, sole proprietors/independent contractors do qualify!

Closing thoughts

Listen, I know there’s a lot to unpack here and it feels like half of these programs are already zeroed out for the moment anyway so it might make one feel pretty hopeless about their situation. I empathize, but I think that’s a mistake. Stay checking, stay searching, stay alive.

As frightening as these times are, it behooves oneself to be vigilant and unceasing in making sure they can take care of themselves and their people as best they can. Don’t be afraid to apply for a loan if you’re running a small, indie music venue with just a handful of employees who count on you and don’t be ashamed to ask for a hand if you’re an out of work concert violinist moonlighting as an adult film actress to pay for your masters. 

We all gotta eat.


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