Tag Archives: congress

More COVID Economic Aid – Tell Congress to Act Now!

As we enter the fifth month of the pandemic, the live entertainment industry is still shutdown. With Depression-era unemployment and with the virus out of control, no one knows when it will be safe enough to reopen our performance venues, to end this isolation, reconnect with our audiences and with each other.

In this period of radical uncertainty, many believe the pandemic will cause shifts in political and economic power that will only become clear later. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the US unemployment rate will stay above pre-pandemic levels for a decade, predicting that unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2030 will be 4.4%. The February pre-pandemic unemployment rate was 3.5%, a 50-year low. Current projections of 14% unemployment for the fourth quarter this year do not reflect the resurgence of virus cases that have led many states to re-impose restrictions and scale back reopening plans. 

As I write today, July 16, over 50 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, putting the real unemployment rate near the Depression-era peak of 25%. With a V-shaped recovery considered unlikely, a growing number of scientists, politicians, and economists say that controlling the virus is the key to economic recovery. 

All of us are under an enormous amount of stress due to the economic effects of the pandemic, which are also viewed against the background of pandemic politics. We see politicians deciding whether to risk tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of lives on the one hand, or whether to risk the economy on the other. But as the agony of the pandemic plays out, the economy is stalling during the reopening process with exponential spread of the disease. 

There is misery on either side of the equation. The lockdowns have given rise to tens of millions of unemployed, a rash of bankruptcies, and severe financial pain. But there is also an extended period of suffering when opening the economy too soon results in a rebound in infections. With science saying a full year of pandemic infectiousness is looming, even with the discovery of a vaccine, additional government intervention and economic assistance is needed. 

The Federation played an important role in the lobbying process toward initial emergency supplemental COVID legislation in March, which gave state unemployment programs the latitude to pay freelancers and gig workers unemployment benefits. The added federal boost to state payments of $600 per week was expected to end (as of this writing) the last week of July. 

We are lobbying hard to extend those payments. We know that it is likely, due to the non-essential nature of our employment, that for the entertainment industry and for musicians in particular, both for regularly employed and for freelancers, the devastation to our business may result in our being among the last to return to work. Returning to anything resembling pre-COVID working conditions looks more and more distant. 

In March, the government enacted a four-month legislative economic relief program that included expanded unemployment benefits, small business assistance, tax-filing delays, and eviction moratoriums. But in light of the virus resurgence that is choking the restarting of the economy, it won’t be enough.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s early aggressive intervention both saved lives and led to a quicker rebound to help rebuild demand for jobs. The New York approach, which imposed a short-term lockdown and solid social distancing measures, got control of the infection rate and limited the spread of the disease. Governor Cuomo saw it necessary to mitigate the deadly impact of the virus because he believed and clearly understood that without a healthy population, there can be no healthy economy. 

More governmental aid is necessary not just for our unemployed, but also for the small and medium-sized businesses that employ us. Without it, you can expect many more businesses to file bankruptcies, which will cascade through and crash the financial and real estate markets. Banks will be in trouble if business debt is not serviced. Landlords will not get rental payments, which will lead to additional bankruptcies, debt charge offs, and more banking sector problems. And if we can’t enable the scientists to find ways to treat and contain the disease quickly, more people will get sicker, more companies are going to crash, and this shaky, sputtering economic reopening will regress further.

What we can do today is what we did in March. We can contact Congress, particularly the Senate, to demand action to aid the unemployed, including gig workers and professional musicians whose jobs disappeared overnight, and whose loss of work has no end in sight. 

In May, the US House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, which would extend expanded unemployment benefits through January 2021. But the Senate has still not voted on this critical piece of legislation. I contacted my senators to tell them to support critical pieces of the HEROES Act in the next COVID-19 relief bill including:

  • Extending Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional $600 per week to the unemployed.
  • Providing a 100% COBRA premium subsidy for lost access to employee-based insurance.
  • Safeguarding renters and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures.
  • Providing assistance to struggling multiemployer pension plans, including the AFM plan.
  • Increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and other arts organizations.
  • Additional financial aid for small businesses.

Will you join me in writing to our senators now? Please copy the following link and follow the prompts:


Our health and livelihood, and that of our families and friends, and reducing short- and long-term consequences of this terrible pandemic may very well depend on what happens in Congress between now and August 8, when the Senate is scheduled to recess. Again, please visit the link above and urge your two senators to support our interests. Don’t wait. Please do it today!

Congress Votes To Increase NEA Funding

The U.S. Senate and House both voted to increase NEA funding by $2.2 million (1.42%) for 2019.

On August 1st, the U.S. Senate approved the 2019 Interior Appropriations Bill by a vote of 92-6. The bill which was previously approved by the U.S. House of Representatives also increases the National Endowment for the Humanities budget. The House and Senate will meet in the coming weeks to settle differences in the legislative language between their bills, and there should be one more round of votes before the bill goes to the President.

Union musicians and other members of the arts community sent emails, made phone calls and had conversations with their elected officials about the importance of federal arts funding. When musicians join together, amazing results are achieved.

Federal Government Tax Reform: What It Means for You

The Republican-led Congress and administration have now embarked on a debate over another feature piece of legislation promised during the 2016 campaign: tax reform. At this writing, the Republican-led House of Representatives has introduced its far reaching reform proposal, which it claims focuses on a tax savings for middle-class Americans. Along with White House regulatory reforms, the House says the bill will provide tax savings and incentives for American businesses, especially those with overseas or offshore operations.

Working alongside the majority party in Congress, the White House is expecting delivery of a complete tax package to the President’s desk before Christmas. The steady grind of the legislative machine in both the US House and Senate since the end of the August recess may drive this package through (loopholes and all), especially if the House and Senate can make a final deal with disgruntled Republicans and some nationally recognized outside groups like the Mortgage Bankers Association, national real estate organizations, and others who are on the fence.

Though the philosophy of the majority party is to move this process through before too many stakeholders weigh in, there are those who believe that the package as written, containing a limit on interest deductions for new home purchases of $500,000 or more and an expansion of the standard deduction (as outlined in a November 3 New York Times article), is a losing proposition, too difficult to sell to their constituents. In the same New York Times article, others, including Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation and the independent Tax Foundation, find that America’s highest earners would receive at least twice the tax cut that middle-class workers would get, as a percentage of their income.

Democrats, along with other outside groups who sit in opposition to the package, say that the plan is not well thought-out and is moving too quickly. It will harm, not help, middle-class Americans because it will raise taxes. Meanwhile, it will eliminate some much sought-after and expected annual tax staples such as state and local tax write-offs (businesses will continue to be able to deduct state and local taxes incurred in the conduct of a trade or business) and House reductions in the mortgage interest cap. Also, it will use funds from the elimination of important programs, such as the CHIP and state Medicaid Expansion, which were put in place to help middle-class Americans. Opponents say this, along with other loopholes, is all to help pay for a tax reform package designed to help wealthy taxpayers.

Concerns for Members

A look at the tax reform package reveals some issues—changes for the average American and for musicians and others in the media and entertainment fields.

The House Ways and Means Committee, the committee that oversees the drafting and implementation of tax legislation, has outlined what the new tax law does. You can read the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at https://waysandmeans.house.gov/taxreform/. The committee states that the bill:

Lowers individual tax rates for low- and middle-income Americans

Eliminates special-interest deductions

Establishes a new Family Credit, which includes expanding the Child Tax Credit

Reduces the tax rate on the hard-earned business income of Main Street job creators

Significantly increases the standard deduction

Takes action to support American families

Preserves the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Lowers the corporate tax rate to 20%

Opposition forces say that the bill falls short of all these goals and leaves the average American subsidizing proposals that only benefit the rich.

Yeh Shen of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA) states, “Under GOP’s tax plan, all of the necessary costs associated with maintaining a freelance career and professional activities are not tax deductible, if players continue to be paid as W-2 wage [earners].”

Winners v. Losers

But, who are the winners and losers? An article from The Hill  describes who stands to gain and who stands to lose. Here’s a summary:

Winners—Corporations will see their tax rate go down from 35% to 20%. Companies would be allowed to deduct the full costs of buying new equipment for five years. And businesses that had been keeping profits overseas to avoid the 35% tax rate would be able to bring the money back, or repatriate to the US, and pay only a 12% tax for cash assets. Major business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers back provisions to lower rates for businesses, in order to move to a “territorial” tax system that exempts dividends from companies’ foreign subsidiaries and to enhance expensing of capital investments.

Super wealthy individuals will keep the top tax rate in place, but they have a lot to gain from the bill.  First off, the income tax bracket thresholds increase, which will accrue savings at the top. Second, the bill would double the limit on the estate tax and then phase it out altogether. Currently, the estate tax only applies to estates of $5.5 million or more, and twice that for couples. The bill would immediately double that, giving tax shelter to anyone with an estate between $5.5 million and $11 million (or, again, double those amounts for couples). After a few years, the tax would be eliminated altogether, meaning that the very wealthiest in the country could receive their inheritances tax-free. Third, the plan would lower the taxation rates of “pass-through” corporations, or S-corps, to 25%, allowing certain business owners to claim part of their income at the lower rate. Fourth, it would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which was intended to create a floor on tax exemptions.

Losers—Blue states, the budget deficit, universities, homeowners, and nonprofit organizations.   

House v. Senate Bills

As for House and Senate bill comparisons, Sarah Babbage from Blumberg outlines direct differences in the bills. You can read her analysis at: https://about.bgov.com/blog/bgov-onpoint-comparing-house-senate-tax-bills/.

For musicians, the tax plan in its earliest form hit on two issues that would have directly impacted artists and their supporting institutions. The first was a provision in the code that provided the time and manner rules for electing capital asset treatment for certain self-created musical works. The original temporary regulatory proposal was published in the Federal Register February 8, 2008. No comments appeared in response of the proposed rulemaking and no request for a public hearing was received. The Treasury then decided to adopt the proposed regulation with some minor changes. However, on November 6, 2017, the provision was removed from the Ways and Means Manager’s Report. The Manager’s Report would have allowed a taxpayer to treat the sale or exchange of a musical composition or a copyright of their personal musical work as a capital gain or loss.

Secondly, the House bill eliminates certain language referring to business entertainment write-offs. This could mean fewer business professionals using theater, restaurant, and other performance venues as write-off activities for their clients. Section 3307 entitled “Entertainment, etc. Expenses,” denies a business deduction for entertainment, amusement, recreation, and other fringe benefits in the media and entertainment industry to embrace or entice business partners. The provision goes on to say: “No deduction otherwise allowable under this chapter shall be allowed for amounts paid or incurred for any of the following items … this may impact any entertainment, amusement, or recreation activity; membership dues; amenities not directly related to the taxpayers trade or business; or on-premise athletic facilities, not related to a trade or business.” 

The Senate bill, introduced November 14, is currently under debate. We must consider that, at this writing, the House bill is still under consideration and the Senate bill, though just introduced, has additional changes. No new policy is set in stone until the chamber has a final vote on it. However, we expect those votes very soon. The AFM will continue to work with its affiliates and outside partners to help mitigate the negative effects of this legislation.

Letter to Congress Calls for NEA, NEH, CPB Funding

The AFM joined 11 other arts and entertainment groups in sending a letter to Congress opposing President Trump’s elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The letter urges Congress to at least maintain current funding for the institutions. It reads, in part:

Ending federal support for the NEA, NEH, and CPB would be radical, unprecedented action that would harm everyday people, particularly individuals who live far from metropolitcan cultural centers. Through grants, seed money, and technical support, the NEA, NEH, and CPB ensure that Americans of all means, geographies, and abilities have access to artistic and educational content. Private money cannot fully replace lost funding from the NEA, NEH, and CPB. Without continued funding for the NEA, NEH, and CPB, we expect the loss of good, middle-class jobs, with the most acute economic pain being felt far from the soundstages of Hollywood and bright lights of Broadway.

Among those joining AFM President Ray Hair in signing the letter were: Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle; AFL-CIO Department of Professional Employees President Paul E. Almeida; International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees President Matthew D. Loeb; SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris; and Writers Guild of America, East President Michael Winship.


AFM Representatives Participate in 21st Congress of FIM

Bruce Fife headshotby Bruce Fife, AFM International Vice President

The International Federation of Musicians (FIM) held its 21st Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, June 7-9. Attending and representing the AFM were Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, International Executive Board member Tino Gagliardi, and International Vice President Bruce Fife.

FIM brings together musician unions from all corners of the globe. Nearly 100 representatives came to this congress, to share, discuss,

FIM General Secretary Benoît Machuel, AFM Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, AFM Executive Board Member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi; FIM President John Smith; AFM International Vice President and Local 99 (Portland, OR) President Bruce Fife.

FIM General Secretary Benoît Machuel, AFM Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert, AFM Executive Board Member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi; FIM President John Smith; AFM International Vice President and Local 99 (Portland, OR) President Bruce Fife.

debate, and act on myriad issues that affect musicians worldwide. Of particular interest to the AFM was achieving a more representative voice within the leadership of FIM in order to assure the issues that are important to our membership have the strongest possible response and input from the international community. To that end, AFM President Ray Hair was elected to the Presidium, the highest executive body of FIM, and AFM Canada also gained a seat on the FIM Executive Committee.

The Congress debated and passed a slate of timely resolutions initiated by the specific unions:

  • An exhortation to governments with whom FIM has representations to fulfill and enforce legislation protecting musicians (Uruguayan Association of Musicians)
  • Equality for women and men in the music sector (FIM African Committee)
  • Recognition of musicians as employees/protected workers, so that they have the same labor rights as other workers (French Musicians Union)
  • Work to create fair and transparent distribution of income by collective
    management organizations (British Musicians’ Union)
  • Intensify the “Fair Internet for Performers” campaign to develop additional income for performers from streaming platforms (British Musicians’ Union)
  • Work to introduce the “Agent of Change Principle” to our respective governments with the goal of protecting our vital inner-city, grass-roots live music venues (British Musicians’ Union)
  • Work to protect the music education systems of Latin America (Musicians’ Union of Rio de Janeiro)
  • Work to establish a procedure and database for identifying international airlines with good records for instrument carry-on (German Orchestra Union)
  • Create a program for the collection and shipment of musical instruments to Africa (FIM African Committee)

(L to R): Swedish Musicians Union President Jan Granvik, British Musicians Union Assistant Secretary Horace Trubridge, and AFM International Vice President Bruce Fife.

(L to R): Swedish Musicians Union President Jan Granvik, British Musicians Union Assistant Secretary Horace Trubridge, and AFM International Vice President Bruce Fife.

As you can see, the topics are ones we can relate to, or ones we have faced in one form or another, and have either resolved or continue to work on. For example, the AFM has successfully dealt with the issue of traveling with instruments in the US, but once you leave our shores, all bets are off. Also, while I believe that the defunding of our public school music programs may have bottomed out and we’re starting to move in the right direction, much of the rest of the world seems to be where we were 15 years ago, with a downward trend destroying their school music programs because of austerity measures.

There were also numerous panel presentations, one of which I participated on. A robust discussion of online music and related royalty streams with representatives from England, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Hungary, and of course, the US, focused specifically on how we get streaming money into the hands of our musicians. In many ways, the AFM is a step ahead on this issue, based on our involvement with SoundExchange and our AFM and SAG-AFTRA Fund, which were of great interest to FIM representatives.

For me, the Congress highlighted how small our world has become, how the values and hopes of musicians operating in a globalized music industry are interconnected, and most importantly, how we can benefit from hearing each others’ stories and strategizing together about our common concerns. Given our newly elected leadership in the body of FIM, the AFM will not only continue, but also increase its involvement on the world stage.

Tell Congress to Stop Raiding Social Security

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler says, “It’s time to push back against a loophole created by Republicans, which allows outstanding federal student loan debt to be taken from Social Security benefits.” The bill, which would end the practice of raiding people’s Social Security benefits to pay for student loans, was introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden and Sherrod Brown. She says, “Now, it’s time for Congress to take action.”

Members are encouraged to show their support and sign the petition at: www.signherenow.org/petition/stop-raiding-social-security/aflcio