PVLA COVID-19 Topics for Artists, Inventors & Arts Organizations
These FAQs are intended to be a reference for individual artists, inventors, arts & cultural organizations and creative small businesses facing the many complex and difficult issues arising from the COVID-19 crisis. This resource is not intended to be a thorough discussion of all potential issues but rather focuses primarily on guidance and information applicable in the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (PVLA) service area (the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area) and certain federal and state legislation and information that is broadly applicable. PVLA will endeavor to update and expand this resource as more information and resources become available. If you need additional information, we encourage you to reach out to us at: [email protected]
If you have additional questions, or would like to request the assistance of a pro bono attorney volunteer, please click on the link above to fill out an online application. Please also see PVLA’s recent post regarding changes to our intake and application processes in response to the impact of COVID-19.
Thank you to Morgan, Lewis & Bockius for assistance in putting together these FAQs. This material is provided for your convenience and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Prior results do not guarantee similar outcomes.
Above all, we hope that you and those closest to you can continue to remain safe and healthy through this time of crisis.
- Where can I find general information about the virus and how I can protect myself and my family?
Official sources for information include:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- The World Health Organization (WHO)
- The Pennsylvania Department of Health
- The New Jersey Department of Health
- The Philadelphia Department of Public Health
Individuals and Families
- I’ve been terminated from my job as an employee. How do I get unemployment compensation?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows states to extend benefits to self-employed and gig workers through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), including providing an extra $600 per week and an additional 13 weeks of benefits.
To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.
When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. To make sure your claim is not delayed, be sure to give complete and correct information. It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.
The CareerOneStop includes resources regarding unemployment insurance by state. Additionally, below are a few resources on filing an unemployment claim in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
To file an unemployment claim in New Jersey:
- General Information about the Unemployment Insurance Program
- To file a general UI claim online
- To file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance online
- To file a claim by telephone number
- NJ Coronavirus UI update
To file an unemployment claim in Pennsylvania:
- General Information about the Unemployment Insurance Program
- To file a general UI claim online
- To file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance online
- To file a claim by telephone number
- PA Coronavirus UI update
- I’ve been told I’ve been “furloughed” from my job as an employee–what does that mean and what are my rights? Am I eligible for unemployment compensation and how do I get it?
An employee furlough is a mandatory suspension from work without pay, where the employee usually gets to return to their job when the furlough has ended. It can be as brief or as long as the employer wants. Pennsylvania and New Jersey each provide resources for furloughed employees including information on filing an unemployment claim. Please refer to Question #1 above for additional information on filing an unemployment claim.
- I’ve lost my health care coverage (I got fired; my employer went out of business; I got my coverage through my spouse’s employer and s/he got fired)–how can I get coverage?
Obtaining coverage under the Affordable Care Act:
If you lose your health insurance, a 60-day window opens to get health-insurance coverage immediately under the federal Affordable Care Act. You will likely need to provide documentation proving that you are losing your current health insurance. ACA plans often have high premiums, but many people can qualify for a federal subsidy based on their income that reduces the monthly cost.
About a dozen states have also said that people can sign up for ACA plans right away even if they have not lost other health insurance. Those openings are for a limited time, so you may want to check quickly to determine if you are eligible.
Obtaining Coverage Under your Spouse’s or Parents’ Plan:
If you lose your job and your health insurance, you may be eligible to join your spouse’s employer plan. But you must do so within 30 days of losing your own coverage. If you are under 26, you may be added to your parents’ plan. Losing your health insurance starts a special 30-day enrollment window for you to do this. Contact the employer of your spouse’s or parents’ plan to enroll.
Obtaining Coverage Under Short-Term Health Insurance Plans:
Many insurers sell short-term health insurance plans, though the length of time and availability varies by state. You should approach these options very cautiously, however, as recent research has found that some agents and salespeople exaggerated the coverage such products would offer for COVID-19 patients.
Obtaining Coverage Under COBRA:
“COBRA”, which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows you to keep your employer health-insurance plan for as long as 18 months after you leave your job. You have to sign up within 60 days of losing your job-based coverage. Small employers may be exempt from COBRA, in which case state “mini-COBRA” may apply.
There are advantages to COBRA, but also one major downside: the cost. COBRA can cost up to 102% of the full premium on your employer plan. Most people don’t know how much that is, because employees generally only pay a fraction of that total each month.
An upside of COBRA is that you can keep your current network of doctors and other healthcare providers. This may be helpful if you are in the middle of treatment for a condition.
Contact your employer to determine your options under COBRA.
- I am an employee or self-employed but I don’t have any medical coverage, what can I do? Where can I go for the free COVID-19 tests the news keeps talking about?
It is important to note that your visit is free only if it results in a coronavirus test. If a doctor does procedures or tests to rule out the new virus and ends up not ordering a lab test for coronavirus, then you might still be on the hook for your copay or deductible. You should always call ahead to determine the potential cost of the visit before going into the office.
- I run my own business and I am not getting enough revenue to survive–what can I do?
Your business may eligible to access options for relief under federal, state and local programs or your existing business insurance policies.
The CARES Act contains provisions regarding business loan programs and lending facilities, business taxes, retirement and employee benefits, banking relief, and small business relief, among other items. Information on the CARES Act is available here. Alternatively, you may also be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (see item # 1 above). You should review each of these options first in order to determine which one is best for you and your business.
You should also review your insurance coverages to determine if your business is eligible to recover under a business interruption or similar insurance policy. Information regarding business interruption coverage and the COVID-19 pandemic is available here. Information regarding legislative and regulatory impacts on business interruption insurance is available here.
- I can’t pay my mortgage or rent–are there any protections available to me?
Under an executive order issued May 7th, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has issued a stayed all eviction proceedings until July 10th, 2020. The Philadelphia Housing Authority has also suspended evictions until July 29, 2020.
On Friday May 8th, 2020, the City of Philadelphia announced the launch of a Renter’s Assistance Program, which aims to help individuals who have lost income due to COVID-19 pay their rent. The City will begin accepting applications for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 at 10 a.m. The deadline to apply is Saturday, May 16, 2020 at 5 p.m. Applications are available through PHLRentAssist.org. Residents without internet access or a smart phone can get program and application information by calling 3-1-1.
Under an executive order issued March 19, 2020, New Jersey has paused evictions and foreclosures for 60 days following the end of the public health emergency. New Jersey has also announced mortgage payment and other financial relief measures.
- I can’t make my utility payments— are there any protections available to me?
In the Philadelphia area, utilities have agreed not to pursue shutoffs until May. This applies to the Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Gas Works and PECO (Exelon).
Check with your utility provider to determine if any relief is available to you.
- I can’t make my student loan payments— are there any protections available to me?
The CARES Act provides for the suspension of federal student loan payments and interest through September 30, 2020. Several categories of student loans are not covered by the CARES Act, and you will need to continue paying these loans on schedule:
- Federal Perkins Loans managed by universities.
- Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) Loans managed by banks and other financial institutions.
- Private Loans
Note that when this forbearance period ends, you will still have to pay your same student loan balance before payments were suspended. Contact your student loan servicer with any questions or to discuss forbearance options for loans not covered under the CARES Act.
- I can’t make my credit card payments–are there any protections available to me?
- I heard that the due date for Federal tax returns have been postponed–what are the new rules?
The 2019 income tax filing and payment deadlines for all taxpayers who file and pay their Federal income taxes on April 15, 2020, are automatically extended until July 15, 2020. This relief applies to all individual returns, trusts, and corporations and is automatic (taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms or call the IRS to qualify).
- I am self-employed and make estimated tax payments–is the 4/15/2020 due date extended?
The extensions described above also includes estimated tax payments for tax year for the first quarter of 2020 that are due on April 15, 2020. This deadline has been automatically extended until July 15, 2020. However, note that the second quarter estimated tax payment is still due on June 15, 2020.
- Is there something similar for Pennsylvania and New Jersey taxes?
- Or for Philadelphia taxes?
In response to the coronavirus, Philadelphia is honoring the U.S. federal government extensions granted to businesses for filing and payments until July 15, 2020 for the Business Income & Receipts Tax (BIRT) and Net Profits Tax (NPT). This extension policy includes estimated payments and requires no additional action from businesses.
- I have a job still but am not feeling well and think I should stay home for a bit, but I am afraid I will be fired. What sort of protection do I have, what sort of sick leave is available?
See the Department of Labor’s guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.
- I am currently on Medicaid–how does any of this affect my Medicaid coverage?
While no specific changes have been made to Medicaid coverage, please refer to state resources regarding medical insurance coverage (including Medicaid) of COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Pennsylvania has announced that Medicaid and CHIP Recipients’ COVID-19 testing and treatment are covered and provided a state insurance coverage FAQ relating to COVID-19.
New Jersey has announced a waiver of co-payments relating to COVID-19 testing, visits for testing, and testing-related services.
Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Human Services has prepared a guide on ways it is working to protect and maintain benefits for residents amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
- I need money badly to live on–can I access my 401(k) account, 403(b) account or IRA? Without a 10% penalty?
You may be permitted to withdraw money from your 401(k) plan. If you are younger than 59½, you are subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on top of the income tax owed on your withdrawal.
- My independent contractor agreement was just terminated–can they do that?
Contact PVLA to request an attorney who can discuss any questions relating to termination of your independent contractor agreement.
- My gig/exhibit/commission/etc. was just cancelled – can they do that?
This depends on the terms and conditions of your contract, including whether a force majeure clause or a material adverse effect clause may be applicable. Contact PVLA to request an attorney to discuss any questions or options relating to termination of your gig/exhibit/commission/etc.
- My contract/gig/etc. hasn’t been cancelled, and I’m concerned about my health if I continue to work because my work involves exposure to others – what are my options?
If your engagement is in Pennsylvania, please refer to guidance regarding Pennsylvania’s Stay At Home order.
If your engagement is in New Jersey, please refer to guidance regarding New Jersey’s Stay At Home order.
For Arts Groups
- Where can we go for information regarding reducing pay, reducing hours, or terminating staff?
Refer to the “Workforce Change in a Time of Pandemic” webinar series. These types of changes should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Contact PVLA to request an attorney to discuss the specific circumstances of your business and any potential options.
- What if we can’t make our payments to our creditors, mortgage company or landlords?
Review resources regarding performance under a lease or mortgage.
Finally, review Question #6 above regarding current pauses in eviction and foreclosure proceedings.
- What if we can’t make our unemployment compensation premiums or pay over our payroll tax obligations?
The CARES Act includes a $350 billion loan program for businesses with fewer than 500 employees (including sole proprietors, independent contractors and anyone otherwise self-employed). Under the bill, loans can be used to meet payroll and cover certain other expenses like utilities or insurance premiums. And, borrowers will be able to apply for loan forgiveness.
- What sort of help is available for not-for-profit businesses from the federal government and how can I get it?
The Independent Sector’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT) Summary for Nonprofits and Families First Coronavirus Response Act Summary for Nonprofits, and Nonprofit Quarterly’s How Nonprofits Can Utilize the New Federal Laws Dealing with COVID-19 all contain summaries of resources applicable to nonprofit organizations.
Additionally, your business may be eligible for disaster loans and other relief programs through the U.S. Small Business Administration. An overview of existing options for COVID-19 relief for small businesses is available here.
You should also review the SBA’s guidance and resources to determine if your business if eligible for disaster loans and other assistance.
- What sort of help is available from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the State of New Jersey and how can I get it?
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has announced a number of resources to assist small businesses, which include:
- Employer FAQ regarding unemployment claims
- The Shared Work Program
- Department of Community and Economic Development Funding & Programs
- Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) Loans
- Business Tax License and Certifications Extension Notice
The State of New Jersey has also announced a number of resources to assist small businesses, including:
- COVID-19 FAQ for New Jersey Businesses
- NJ Department of Labor COVID-19 Q&A for employers and businesses
- Financial support programs available to businesses impacted by COVID-19
Additionally, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) is launching a Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program on Friday, April 3, 2020. The NJEDA’s additional resources for businesses include:
- NJEDA’s COVID-19 FAQs
- New initiatives to support businesses impacted by COVID-19
- Grants available for small- and medium-sized businesses via the NJEDA Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant. (NOTE: This program is now closed to new applicants. Phase 2 information now available for existing applicants).
- Loans available to small businesses via the NJEDA Small Business Emergency Assistance Loan. (NOTE: This program is now closed to new applicants. Existing applicants may check on the status of their loan application).
- Assistance available for startup investors or entrepreneurs via the NJEDA Entrepreneur Guarantee Program
- The NJEDA Small Business Emergency Assistance Guarantee Program
- Assistance available for existing NJEDA business customers via NJEDA Payment Moratorium/Loan Fee Forgiveness
- The NJEDA Emergency Technical Assistance Program
Private foundation and nonprofit resources available in New Jersey include:
- The NJ Center for Non-Profits’ Resources for Non-Profits in Response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak
- The NJ Pandemic Relief Fund
- The South Jersey COVID-19 Response Fund
- What sort of help is available to businesses from the City of Philadelphia or other localities and how can I get it?
The City of Philadelphia has a list of resources available for businesses impacted by COVID-19.
The William Penn Foundation is also putting together a COVID-19 Arts Aid PHL Fund designed to support small to mid-sized arts organizations, as well as individual artists.
Other funding resources available through public and private entities in Philadelphia include:
- Small business loans through Kiva
- The Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund
- The PHL COVID-19 Fund
- The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) Resource Guide
- Do the various postponements of tax return due dates apply to nonprofit entities?
- We can no longer afford to sponsor our health care plan, what do we do? If we do so, do employees who lose coverage have COBRA rights and how does that affect us?
An amendment to the FFCRA provides a credit for covered employer’s cost of providing health care coverage to employees during a leave under the Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. This applies to the amount the employer paid toward maintaining health plan coverage of an employee on such a paid leave which was excluded from the employee’s gross income for federal income tax purposes.
If an employer chooses to discontinue offering health insurance coverage to its employees, COBRA continuation coverage will not be available. Employees may be eligible for coverage under the options, except the described COBRA coverage, listed in Question #3 above.
- Does our insurance cover any of the losses we are experiencing?
You should review your insurance coverages to determine if your business is eligible to recover under a business interruption or similar insurance policy. You should also review your insurance coverages to determine if your business is eligible to recover under a business interruption or similar insurance policy. Information regarding business interruption coverage and the COVID-19 pandemic is available here. Information regarding legislative and regulatory impacts on business interruption insurance is available here.
- Our donors are reneging on their pledges, or we are afraid they might do so – can they do that?
The answer depends on how the pledge has been documented. Some nonprofits have attempted to use a pledge agreement in which donors make a binding commit to make a contribution, enforceable by the terms of the agreement. Other versions used by nonprofits are less formal and may express only an intention to make a gift. Consequently, further review of the relevant documents would be necessary to provide guidance. Because these are very hard times for everyone, working with donors to restructure their commitment if need be may be a more practical approach. Enforcement of even the most binding donor commitment would be challenging at this juncture.
- Can we terminate agreements with our independent contractors/freelancers, either under the terms of our agreement, or simply because we can’t move forward under the circumstances?
Refer to the “Workforce Change in a Time of Pandemic” webinar series. These types of changes should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Contact an attorney to discuss the specific circumstances of your business and any potential options.