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The PRO-Files: Resources To Help Photographers Weather The Coronavirus Economic Storm

While much of the United States is on lockdown in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, many professional photographers have found themselves with dwindling or altogether disappearing business. Weddings are postponed, commercial shoots are cancelled, travel is all but outlawed. Worse, it’s impossible to know how long the shutdown will last. Still, among all of the dire headlines there is positive news on all fronts. The best minds on the planet are making progress at a record pace on effective treatments and vaccines and on the economic front the federal government along with many banks and creditors are making provisions to aid those of us with lost income. As we publish this, there’s news that the White House and the Senate have reached a deal on a huge stimulus plan. As we await the final details of the stimulus, here’s a rundown of resources to help you navigate this growing financial hardship.

Congressional Aid

Idled photographers are eagerly anticipating the formalization of government proposals to provide economic stimulus to large corporations, small businesses and individuals across the country. As we publish this, the White House and Senate have made a deal on the $2+ trillion bill, the largest financial bailout ever attempted by Congress. (By comparison, the 2008 TARP bailout totaled $700 billion.) It includes $500 billion earmarked for loans to businesses at the discretion of the treasury department, $50 billion for passenger airlines, $350 billion for small businesses, $100 billion for emergency public health needs and $250 billion for state unemployment programs. Also included in the bill is $250 billion earmarked for individuals by way of a one-time payment of between $600 and $1,200 per qualifying adult—those who earned up to $75,000 in 2018—with payment size directly correlated to income. Individuals who earned between $75,000 and $99,000 would receive pro-rated payments, reduced by $5 per additional $100 earned above $75,000. Those who earned more than $99,000 in 2018 receive no payment. Qualifying adults would also receive an additional $500 per child. This so-called “helicopter money” would be delivered in the form of checks mailed directly to the address used to file federal income tax, and if the legislation is passed quickly checks could go out as early as April 6th. As proposed, the funds would be provided tax-free as a credit against federal income tax, though it is possible the government could consider the checks a gift and make them taxable as 2020 income. In the next few days, we'll have more details about the agreed-upon deal as they're available.  

Unemployment Benefits

Normally reserved for those who have lost their jobs, photographers who are subject to quarantine or who have been temporarily laid off may be able to file for unemployment benefits. The particulars are established by the state of residence, but in general the benefits are based on a percentage of income from the previous year and cover from 14 to 26 weeks. Be warned that some states only cover full-time workers. Use the state unemployment benefits finder created by CareerOneStop.

The New York Times also has a helpful explainer for learning more about unemployment insurance at:


Credit Cards And Banking

Many banks are offering assistance to customers affected by COVID-19. Few are automatically waiving fees and penalties, with most encouraging customers to reach out directly to customer service in order to request fee and penalty waivers, and even credit card and mortgage payment deferrals. Forbes has created a regularly updated resource of banks offering relief to customers affected by COVID-19 at:

The American Bankers Association has compiled its own list of member banks and their coronavirus-related initiatives.

The FDIC has created an informational website for banking customers concerned about their assets amid the coronavirus slowdown.

Mortgage And Rent

Homeowners with mortgages owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or F.H.A. loans can breathe a small sigh of relief, as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has implemented a two-month, nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. To find out who owns your mortgage, use Making Home Affordable’s online tool. If it shows that the federal government does not own a loan, contact your loan servicer first to double-check and then to find out what special accommodations they are able to make.

Many states and municipalities have also issued moratoriums against eviction during the COVID-19 outbreak, and the National Low Income Housing Association has compiled a list of information and links to local resources.

For renters in particular, local resources are key. Just Shelter, an organization advocating on behalf of affordable housing nationwide, created an easy to use map that provides direct links to state and local resources for those in need of rental assistance.


Utilities

New York’s Con Edison and California’s PG&E utilities are suspending shutoffs until further notice. It is anticipated that many other municipalities and utilities will suspend shutoffs and terminations due to COVID-19. Whether customers are concerned about water, electric, gas or other utilities, the best course of action is to first search a local utility’s website for virus-related accommodations before contacting the utility at the phone number indicated on the customer’s bill. 

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), many national wireless and Internet service providers (including AT&T, Comcast, Sprint and Verizon) will not disconnect customers who can’t pay their bills during the coronavirus shutdown. As with many other service providers, it is as yet unclear whether the assistance will be automatic or require customer action to initiate. The FCC’s Keep Americans Connected website provides a list of all service providers that have agreed to the FCC pledge to avoid disconnecting customers due to the shutdown.


Income Tax

The Internal Revenue Service has extended the federal filing deadline to July 15th. It has also temporarily closed all Taxpayer Assistance Centers and discontinued face-to-face service throughout the country until further notice.

A handful of states have delayed income tax filing deadlines by 30, 45 or 90 days, and more states are likely to join their ranks. TurboTax has compiled a state-by-state list of changing tax deadlines.


Financial Advice

As if health concerns and job woes were not concerning enough, retirement accounts and rainy day funds are also in trouble with investments in stocks, bonds and mutual funds reeling from recent volatility in the stock market. Those in need of assistance or sage advice can look to the Financial Planning Association and its list of certified financial planners offering pro bono guidance. Visit the FPA website for a list of more than two-dozen CFPs volunteering their services nationwide.


Social Security

The Social Security Administration has closed most of its offices, although people requiring face-to-face assistance for essential services can call to schedule appointments. Those in need of information regarding retirement, disability or Medicare benefits can do so online at the SSA’s website.


Student Loans

The U.S. Department of Education is waiving some federal student loan payments and interest for at least 60 days, though the process is not automatic and does not apply to private student loans. Sallie Mae and Navient, both large private lenders, are offering payment suspensions for up to 90 days without an impact on the borrower’s credit. Contact your lender to determine eligibility and to access services. Learn more at the federal student aid website.


NPPA COVID-19 Resource Guide

The National Press Photographers Association has created a helpful resource for photographers—particularly helpful for those still working to cover the spread of the pandemic, as well as resources for freelancers affected by the shutdown.


The President's Coronavirus Guidelines For America


Photographers’ Advocacy

The American Society of Media Photographers is asking photographers to contact their state representatives and senators to urge support for freelance creators and small business owners in proposed economic stimulus funding.


CDC COVID-19 Website

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is an ideal resource for meaningful public health information, including the symptoms of COVID-19, what to do if you think you’re sick, as well as travel and business guidelines.

The CDC also provides links directly to individual state departments of public health and their own ever-evolving guidelines.

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