For NYC’s struggling entertainment workers, federal help is on the way

Coronavirus

New York is known for its live music and theater. When the pandemic shut everything down, thousands of people lost their jobs. Music halls, theaters and clubs were padlocked without a clear answer on when they would reopen.

Lisa Fischer has spent her life performing, singing with some of the biggest acts in music. But she has struggled to get by with mostly virtual performances.

“They are very sparse and [I’m] living off my savings mostly,” she said.

And this is not a unique story. New Yorkers who work in entertainment saw their livelihoods disappear when COVID-19 closed live venues.

Dhruv Chopra, one of the owners of Elsewhere, a live music venue in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said their last live show was March 13, 2020.

“We had to fire 98% of our staff overnight,” Chopra said.

More than a year into the pandemic, Sen. Chuck Schumer was in his home borough of Brooklyn on Monday to let people know help is coming.

President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act on March 11. The COVID relief package included money for the struggling entertainment and arts community.

“First there’s the ‘Save our Stages,’ which gives a six-month grant to independent venues, to movie theaters — not the big chains, but the independent ones, which we have tons of here in New York,” Schumer said. “And to other arts institutions, and they can use that to pay the rent, to pay utilities, to pay workers; it’s very flexible.”

And for the people who lost health insurance when they lost their jobs, the American Rescue Plan provides COBRA subsidies. In addition to stimulus checks, unemployment benefits were also extended through September.

The arts industry makes up a large portion of New York City’s economy, but it’s also a source of joy.

“I am hoping it will be safe by fall,” Fischer said. 

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