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EXCLUSIVE: The Motion Picture & Television Fund has seen a “significant spike” in requests for financial assistance from industry members impacted by the month-old Writers Guild strike.
Jennifer Jorge, MPTF’s Director of Community Social Services, tells Deadline that since the start of the strike on May 2, “We have experienced a significant spike in the volume of calls received on a daily basis, on the high days completing over 40 new intakes, a stark difference from the 10-15 calls we are typically used to experiencing. That is 40 individuals who are calling in distress and are experiencing a crisis.”
Since the strike began, she said, “We have spoken with more than 500 members of the entertainment community, of which over 64% have contacted MPTF inquiring about services related to the work stoppage, namely financial assistance. New requests for financial assistance account for 36% of the total requests, which is a 39% increase from around this time in 2022. Most of those who have contacted MPTF for assistance are non-writers, 33% being members of IATSE.”
Since the start of the year, MPTF has provided direct services to over 2,000 industry members and their families, Jorge said, noting that “Since the strike began, MPTF has continued to provide a multitude of social services to members of the community affected by the work stoppage as a result of the strike and beyond.”
Six months ago, the MPTF was in need of financial assistance itself, but the generosity of donors large and small and a celebrity-packed telethon helped stem what could have spelled the “imminent demise” of the 102-year-old charitable organization unless it was able to raise $10 million-$12 million in cash donations by the end of last year in order to meet its bank line compliance and continue ongoing operations.
That fundraising effort was successful in pulling the MPTF out of the “dire straits” it found itself in due in large part to the extraordinary Covid-related expenses it had racked up to protect the residents at its retirement home in Woodland Hills during the pandemic.
“Thanks to ongoing generous industry support, MPTF remains in compliance with its loan covenants and in good standing with its lender,” MPTF President & CEO Bob Beitcher told Deadline. “As a result, we’re able to focus our Social Services resources on those workers in our entertainment community affected by the current work stoppage, along with other industry members who are otherwise in need.”
During the WGA strike of 2007-2008, he said, “MPTF provided over $1.1 million in grants of financial assistance to members of all unions and guilds who met our eligibility criteria. We are already reviewing hundreds of applications and reaching out to our workforce with check-in calls. ‘Taking care of our own’ carries a special meaning during these difficult times and as always, MPTF is prepared to go the extra step to ensure the safety and well-being of our community.” (“Taking Care of Our Own” is the MPTF’s motto.)
“We are a human services organization, and we offer a broad spectrum of programs and services,” Jorge said. “Help begins the instant an industry professional contacts us. Our Social Services Department specializes in providing practical help and support around life issues by utilizing a person-centered, consciously inclusive approach to service delivery. Although the majority of community industry members are coming to the MPTF expressing a need for financial assistance due to the strike, our 100+-year history of providing charitable assistance has taught us that if you are concerned or experiencing distress about your financial wellness, you are likely experiencing stress in other areas of your life, such as your relationships, your physical and mental health.
“A great deal of stress comes with not being able to meet your basic living expenses and potentially facing eviction if you cannot pay your rent or if you can’t feed yourself because you are trying to keep your electricity on or if your partner is pregnant and you have no sources of income and are in jeopardy of losing your health insurance coverage.”
“The hard reality is that life doesn’t stop just because there is a work stoppage,” she said. “Many of our industry community are experiencing additional challenges simultaneously or independently from the work stoppage.”
Some of the key reasons for requests of MPTF’s free and confidential services, she said, include mental health needs for depression, anxiety, loneliness and substance abuse. MPTF also provides assistance relating to the loss or threat of loss of health insurance; illness and disability related to changes in physical health or a new life-altering medical diagnosis; retirement-related issues and coping with the death of a loved one.
“When you reach out to MPTF you’re going to have a one-on-one confidential conversation with a social worker who is going to listen and hear what is going on for you,” she added. “Together we are going to co-create the next steps and explore how MPTF can help. That help might look like us providing support and a listening ear, finding and linking an industry member to a key community resource, advocating for their needs, connecting them to a support group or helping access what benefits they may be eligible for.
“We know information is a powerful resource and as a result we have also been running various workshops for community members to learn about state and federal benefits as well as how to manage their stress during the strike. As I mentioned, the vast majority of those who are coming to MPTF due to the strike are seeking financial assistance. If one finds themselves in a crisis and they cannot pay for their basic living expenses like their rent, utilities, health insurance, we will talk with them and assess how we can help. There are eligibility criteria, and we encourage everyone to review our frequently asked questions on our website. We work closely with each person to assess their situation. As everyone’s situation is unique, the grant amounts vary based on need. MPTF is dedicated to helping those in the film and television industry, you don’t have to be part of a union, local or guild to receive services.”
With regards to WGA members, she said that “a lot of MPTF’s work has been to guide and inform members of what specific resources are earmarked for them, addressing their financial wellness and encouraging them to pace how they access these resources given the unknown nature of the length of the strike.”
Since 2005, MPTF has partnered with the WGA West to administer its the Good and Welfare Emergency Assistance Fund, which offers interest-free loans to qualified current and post-current WGAW members in good standing who are experiencing acute financial distress.
Jorge said that MPTF “is currently working with over 25 WGA members helping them navigate the WGA Good and Welfare loan process but also providing the high level of support and social services MPTF is known for.”