UPDATE: Representatives from The Walt Disney Co. and Universal Parks and Resorts were among those at a White House meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday as the administration unveils a gigantic stimulus and bailout plan for the economy because of the coronavirus.
One after another, the executives outlined toll that the closure of their operations has had on their workforce and their revenue. Disney and Universal closed their theme parks in the past few days.
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“Employee retention is the single most important issue for me,” Richard Bates, chief lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co., told Trump at the meeting. “Second would be liquidity. So frankly support some kind of employee-employer payroll tax holiday.” He told the president that he liked all of the proposed stimulus measures, but the tax holiday is what he liked “a lot.”
“The question is do we want to go through payroll, or … there are other ways to do it and we’re determining it with the Senate the Senate and House,” Trump said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration is lining up a stimulus package that will include checks sent directly to individuals, while a payroll tax holiday would be something that gets people through the next six to eight months.
Also at the meeting was John Sprouls, chief administrative officer of Universal Parks and Resorts, and Jim Murren, the president and CEO of MGM Resorts, which announced the closure of its Las Vegas properties on Monday.
“If we can get some relief on that, we will absolutely want to keep these people employed,” Murren told Trump.
The focus in entertainment so far has been on how to get relief to the specialized industry workforce, many of whom act as independent contractors as they go project to project. As far as specific bailouts for affected industries, the White House has so far singled out airlines, tourism and hospitality businesses.
PREVIOUSLY: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the Trump administration is looking at a coronavirus relief proposal to give direct cash payments to Americans reeling from job or potential income loss.
“We are looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin told reporters. “Americans need cash now and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks.”
Mnuchin, a former film industry financier, declined to specify the amount, although figures like Mitt Romney have proposed $1,000 payments. He is meeting with Senate Republicans on Tuesday to discuss a massive stimulus package. It reportedly will be an $850 billion outlay that includes $50 billion to help the airline industry.
Another proposal, for a payroll tax holiday, appeared to be on hold for now.
But industry workers are urging Congress to ensure that a relief package takes into account the specialized nature of showbiz employment.
“The unique nature of the entertainment industry means that many of the creative professionals may not work every day, or even every month,” the petition states. “Existing paid leave programs are by and large not applicable to this workforce. Entertainment workers depend on the income from each project they book to ensure they can support themselves and can qualify to participate in our collectively bargained health plans. Rules designed specifically for the traditional single employer relationship, or even for multi-employer work in the construction industry are likely to exclude our members, and entertainment freelancers in general.”
The Motion Picture Association, which represents major studios, said that it is “coordinating with industry partners and government officials to limit the impact.” According to the MPA, the industry supports 2.5 million jobs. But White House officials, including Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence, have so far only publicly identified airlines, travel and tourism as the most urgent industries in need of a bailout.
As he has done before, Trump gave his administration high marks for their response to the coronavirus, but said “we’ve done a poor job on press relations.” That was because he said they have not been able to get “good press” on their emergency response efforts.
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