Iowa Artists And Musicians May Soon Be Able To Apply For COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits

Mar 25, 2020

As the current number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa continues to rise, postponements, cancellations, and closures are a daily occurrence. By order of the governor, restaurants, bars and other public spaces remain closed in an effort to restrict the spread of the novel coronavirus. We’re definitely in uncharted waters! Here's what we know. 

The music industry will be changed by this pandemic. 

In the digital age, the business model for making a living in the music industry has shifted from making, distributing, and selling records to touring. Unfortunately, many performers work for themselves and are not entitled to benefits, including sick leave. Most musicians work as freelancers in our gig economy and are not covered under employer-provided health insurance.

On an individual level and on an industry level, the music business is facing major financial hurdles. It is certainly fair to say the music industry is hardly equipped to handle a pandemic situation like this one.

If you’re able, now is a very important time to support the arts. As public health and government officials work to slow the spread of the COVID-19, the practice of social distancing is likely going to change the face of the arts scene as we know it.

We don't know at this time whether or not artists and musicians will ultimately be able to recoup lost revenue from canceled gigs. If you’re losing income because of the pandemic, track and document your losses. Having a log of the information you might need to prove your lost income will strengthen your position and save time and effort if a solution is offered.

Artist eligiblity for Iowa Workforce Development resources

According to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, individual artists and those self-employed in the creative sector (including: artists, teaching artists, musicians, film and media producers, graphic and creative designers, architectural designers, those working in historic preservation and other related workers) will become eligible for benefits through Iowa Workforce Development. 

There are no emergency relief grants that have been established in Iowa. The relief package currently being considered by Congress might provide emergency funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, which would be distributed through states.

“It is likely that the CARES Act will include small businesses, independent contractors, self-proprietors, and other self-employment categories along with nonprofits,” says Lindsay Keast, who is Arts Program Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Applying for unemployment in Iowa

The governor provided guidance on Wednesday, March 18 and assistance for workers and employers who are affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“Iowa has incredible employers accommodating the needs of Iowans during the disruption caused by COVID-19,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds in a press release. “The state of Iowa is doing everything we can to ease the process and shorten the time it will take for Iowans to receive unemployment benefits. All of our state agencies continue to work as one team to lessen the impact COVID-19 will have on our economy and our people.”   

  • If you are laid off due to COVID-19 or have to stay home to self-isolate, care for family members or due to illness related to COVID-19, you can receive unemployment benefits, provided you meet all other eligibility requirements.  Those requirements essentially include working for wages from an employer who claims you as an employee in six of the last eighteen months and earning at least $2,500 in the same time period. More specific explanation of benefit eligibility can be found here. 
  • Claimants can expect to receive payment within 7-10 days after the date the claim is filed.
  • Claims that are filed and identified as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19 will not be charged to employers. Fact-finding interviews for these claims will be waived and not be held, although employers will be notified of claims received. 
  • Iowa Workforce Development will process unemployment insurance payments to ensure payment will continue to be paid in a timely manner.

Most water, internet and electricity shut-offs for nonpayment have been suspended. If you’re worried about paying basic bills for utilities, read more here

There are funding opportunites for Iowa artists that are not COVID-19 related open now

The state of Iowa is doing everything we can to ease the process and shorten the time it will take for Iowans to receive unemployment benefits. All of our state agencies continue to work as one team to lessen the impact COVID-19 will have on our economy and our people. - Gov. Kim Reynolds

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs offers grant money for self-employed artists. There are currently two funding opportunities accepting applications. 

Art Project Grants are due May 1. These grants are available annually and must involve the creation and presentation of a new work. 

Greenlight Grants, also due May 1, are available annually via the Iowa Arts Council and Produce Iowa to support home-grown Iowa film and digital media projects. 

National artist relief funds are providing some support

Sweet Relief Musicians Fund
If you're a musician or music industry worker who lost 50 percent of your income, you're eligible to apply to this fund.

Musicians Foundation Fund
United States-based musicians who've been active for the past five years are eligible to apply for a microgrant. Keep in mind, this fund also asks for paperwork proving that most of your income has come from your work as a musician. We're  not sure how they define a "professional musician," but there is an email on the page where you can inquire for more information.

Foundation of Contemporary Arts Artist Relief Fund
This fund is open to U.S.-based artists who've fallen on hard times because of the coronavirus outbreak. If you've had a performance or show canceled because of COVID-19, apply.

New Music Solidarity Fund
Emergency grants to support freelance artists are availalbe from this fund. Applications are due by April 30. 

Health care support for musicians and artists 

Deciding to cancel or delay a show is a tough decision to make when you rely on touring and merchandise sales for revenue, but health risks have to be your number one priority.

Keep informed regarding advisories and recommendations from state and local health departments. If you are planning a tour in the coming weeks be aware of the latest conditions in the area you plan to travel to and make an informed decision whether or not it is wise to play your upcoming gig. 

Organizations like MusiCares offer access to affordable healthcare services. MusiCares is currently managing a COVID-19 relief fund for musicians.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that artists in Iowa will become eligible for unemployment benefits pending a federal COVID-19 economic relief package.