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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

Lost Your Job? Some options for entertainment professionals abruptly out of work

For many people, these early days of COVID-19, before masses of people fall ill and before anyone in Erie County has died from the virus, will be remembered for the many people who lost jobs. The situation is dire in the entertainment industry and in the related service industries -- restaurants, bars, hair-stylists, and so forth.

For many, theater is an ancillary occupation. Your friends might know you as an actor, but the IRS knows you as a banker, office worker, cook, or something else. If you've got the kind of job that you can keep doing from home, you should be okay. Stay home and work. Many people, however, don't enjoy that kind of security.

In times like these, the reality that some people really do live from paycheck to paycheck becomes a serious concern. Below is information that might be useful to someone you know, or it might just be a good reminder to us all to check in on friends. At times like these, the question, "How are you doing?" is more than small talk.

The information below, which is far from an exhaustive list, includes updates on unemployment benefits during the Coronavirus pandemic; some background on eligibility for the services of the Actors Fund; and some information on the department of labor; help available from Erie County in critical circumstances; a reminder about Catholic Charities; and a new program within our local theater community, being run by Ben Moran and Kristen Tripp Kelley through the Association of Regional Theater Artists.

New York State Department of Labor -- Unemployment Claims

NYS is waiving the 7-Day waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits for people who are out of work due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) closures or quarantines. You can file, the minute you lose your job. All claims are effective on the Monday of the week in which they are filed. If you are filing a new unemployment insurance claim, the day you should file is based on the first letter of your last name. If your last name starts with A - F, file your claim on Monday. For last names starting with G - N, file your claim on Tuesday. For last names starting with O - Z, file your claim on Wednesday. If you missed your filing day, file your claim on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Filing later in the week will not delay your payments or affect the date of your claim. Here is a step by step process to file a claim online.

The Actors Fund

It's not just for actors. Founded in 1882, The Actors Fund is a national human services organization that exists to serve the needs of anyone in the entertainment community. With a deep understanding of the challenges involved in a life in the arts, services of the Actors Fund include emergency financial assistance, affordable housing, health care and insurance counseling, senior care, secondary career development and more.

The Actors Fund offers a broad spectrum of programs, workshops, and online resources to support the unique, essential needs of people who work in entertainment and the performing arts. Whether on stage or on camera, behind the scenes or below the line, the Actors Fund assists everyone working in theater, film, television, radio, music, dance, opera and circus.

Administered through their offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, these programs help people across the country to solve problems and make positive changes in their lives. Services of the Actors Fund include:

  • Assistance in locating legal and health servicesInformation on affordable housing and advice in dealing with landlord/tenant issues

  • Seminars and groups on topics such as financial wellness and coping with depression

  • Emergency financial assistance for basic living expenses such as rent or medical expenses

Eligibility for assistance from the Actors Fund Any performing arts or entertainment professional may call on the Entertainment Assistance Program for support, information or referrals to community agencies. Eligibility for financial assistance requires an application, documentation of your professional earnings and an interview and in general is based on:

  • A minimum of five years of industry paid employment with earnings of at least $6,500 for three out of the last five years, or

  • Twenty years of industry paid employment with a minimum of ten years of earnings of at least $5,000 for each of those years, and

  • Demonstration of financial need

Association of Regional Theater Artists

Locally, the Association of Regional Theater Artists (ARTA) is making an effort to help the community. The organization has come up with a simple form for members to fill out so they can identify needs in the community, and match these with offers of help or donations.

The completed form will only be seen by the ARTA president, Ben Moran and the vice-president, Kristen Tripp Kelley. You don't need to be an ARTA member to apply; you simply need to be a member of the Buffalo theater community, and while the assistance available if far more modest than what might be available at the Actors Fund or from the Department of Labor, the requirements for eligibility are similarly more modest.

  • PHYSICAL ITEMS: the group will maintain confidentiality and protect privacy as they match things up behind the scenes and facilitate pickup & delivery.

  • NON-PHYSICAL ITEMS: the group will maintain confidentiality and protect privacy as they match things up behind the scenes and will contact you directly to proceed with contacting the provider.

An email address is required for communication and applicants may come back as many times as needed to reapply as needs change.

Assistance from Erie County

The Erie County Department of Social Services offers temporary help for needy adults and children. If you are unable to work, can't find a job or your job does not pay enough to meet your basic living expenses you may be able to get help. Emergency Temporary Assistance offers help for an urgent need or situation that has to be taken care of right away. Some examples of an emergency are:

  • You are homeless.

  • You have received an eviction notice (though New York State has a 90-day moratorium on evictions).

  • You do not have fuel for heating during the cold weather period.

  • Your utilities are shut off or are about to be shut off.

To contact the Emergency Services Unit by phone, call (716) 858-6265.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Erie County's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) issues electronic benefits that can be used like cash to purchase food. SNAP helps low-income working people, senior citizens, the disabled, and others feed their families. Eligibility and benefit levels are based on household size, income and other factors. You can fill out a SNAP application online.

Catholic Charities of WNY

Catholic Charities has updated services in response to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of their service are:

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services and Counseling - The Erie and Niagara

  • County Monsignor Carr Institute Clinics continue to provide mental health counseling via teletherapy to current and new clients, as well as substance abuse services in Erie County. The intake department staff are ready to help new clients access our services at 716-895-1033.

Basic Emergency Assistance

  • Food Pantries - Pantries remain open, but have adapted to accommodate guidelines for social distance and hygiene. Changes include such strategies as meeting participants at the front door, or in a waiting area, or even at participants' vehicles. A list of food pantry locations, days and hours can be found at:

  • Basic Assistance Sites - basic emergency assistance locations in the eight counties remain open, including 525 Washington St., Buffalo,  but you are requested to call ahead to make an appointment if possible. 716-856-4494.

Be a good friend

Make a list of people you care about. Isolation makes this a very lonely crisis. Remember that mental health is as important as physical health, and that theater people thrive on the face to face interactions from which we are now all excluded. Losing a job cuts a person off from a network of social support. Make a list of people you care about, and give some friends a call!


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