Can you show a decrease in your journalism income because of the current pandemic?
Freelance journalists nationwide including sole proprietors, independent contractors and the self-employed (for example, S Corporation owners) might now be entitled unemployment benefits in their state.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the provisions of the unemployment program have been expanded to help provide temporary monetary relief for freelance journalists and other workers who illustrate a decrease in income resulting from the effects of the current pandemic virus on business operations.
Under the newly enacted legislation, freelance journalists who have a loss of income can have the opportunity to receive approximately three months of unemployment insurance, which will be funded by the federal government and administered by each individual state.
Further, the legislation provides an opportunity to receive an additional $600 a week for up to four months.
The amount of unemployment benefits that a freelance journalist could receive will vary depending on the state where you live and the amount of your prior wages. Under the new legislation, the maximum duration of unemployment benefits will be 39 weeks. Be aware, though, that these benefits will be taxable.
Freelance journalists who have experienced a decline in compensation due to the Covid-19 pandemic should apply for unemployment benefits in their state as soon as possible either online or by telephone to your state’s unemployment office.
In preparation, journalists should have their IRS Tax form 1099s and documentation about their decrease in income. Unemployment benefit guidance is still being developed by the United States Department of Labor and state unemployment offices, but journalists should apply now. It is expected that this guidance will explain how the assessment of the amount of benefits will be calculated.
Freelance journalists will need to be prepared with information as they complete state unemployment forms.
The requirements will vary by state, but journalists should compile summary information for each cancelled assignment. One difficulty for freelance journalists might be showing how much income they have lost. In response to this request, journalists should compile a ‘file’ for each cancelled assignment and client which presents information including the scope of the assignment, information about the cancellation or postponement and financial information about the amount of income lost from each assignment.
The change in the law allowing the opportunity for freelance journalists to apply and receive unemployment benefits is a helpful benefit for individuals in the industry and a positive step in support for journalists who are providing news and information to our global world.
Hazel Becker, a retired journalist and an active Society for Professional Journalists member, commented that, “I’m encouraged by the many avenues for relief included in this legislation for gig workers, particularly those [provisions] accommodating their inclusion in the unemployment system.” Further, Becker noted her uncertainty which is shared by many in the freelance community about the amount of monetary relief and the challenges presented as states determine the rules and oversight for the program.
Specifically, Becker stated that “the details of administering the unemployment benefits afforded in the law are left to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, so there is still much uncertainty — and there will be disparities in how the federal assistance program will affect individuals based on their location and other circumstances.” However, Becker shared the hope and positivity expressed by the freelance community in supporting their employment decisions by noting that “the fact that independent contractors weren’t left out of this legislation indicates that gig workers are finding a place in the national work landscape, and that is encouraging. It gets us started as a nation in recognizing and making a place for freelancers and their contribution to our economy.”
This legislation may be the beginning of additional opportunities for relief and support for the freelance community including journalists. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle continue to discuss additional ‘stimulus packages with potential additional benefits’ that may help this community including tax relief and new government programs. This legislation further illustrates the United States support for the entrepreneurial spirit as well as an understanding of the value that the freelance community provides to the growth and sustainability of our economy.
Michelle Sara King is President & CEO of King Consults, a global communications, external relations, government affairs and advocacy firm working with the global freelance, association and business community based in Washington, DC. She has a BA in biology from Bryn Mawr College and a JD from the American University-Washington College of Law. She can be reached via www.mkingconsults.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @MSKinDC
The Society for Professional Journalists website, SPJ.org offers expanding resources for Coronavirus information and resources. SPJ’s Freelance Community is also available to help, with members working on resources for independent journalists. It hosts video chats (announced in its Facebook Group) and is planning webinars to help both long-time and new freelancers. For more information, visit SPJ.org/freelance.asp.