by the Blog Team
This past August, the Interpreters Division (ID) of the American Translators Association (ATA) sent out a survey seeking insight into the financial impact on our members of the COVID-19 pandemic and possible relief provided by the government assistance programs.
A little over 10% of our membership responded, representing 41 states and territories. We also heard from members in 18 other countries (representing only 5% of all respondents).
Given that independent contractors do not typically pay into the unemployment system, US federal and state law does not generally allow them to file for unemployment benefits. COVID-19, however, triggered an exception. The 2020 CARES Act created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) which expanded unemployment benefits to cover the self-employed and independent contractors, among others. It also:
- added $600 per week to regular unemployment insurance through July 31, 2020.
- extended paid benefits from 26 weeks (~6 months) up to 39 weeks (~9 months).
- made all benefits retroactive to the effective date given by the Department of Labor (DOL) of March 29, 2020.
Roughly one-third of the survey respondents filed for unemployment: 20% as W2 earners and the rest as freelancers. In terms of standard unemployment benefits (those not included in the special pandemic relief programs), 60% of the requests were successful.
The special pandemic relief programs yielded slightly better results. Of the 119 people who filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), more than 75% received benefits.
In addition to unemployment benefits, the US Small Business Administration created two loan programs to provide economic relief to businesses experiencing a temporary loss of revenue due to COVID-19. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a mostly forgivable loan; and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) comprised a $1,000 grant, an optional forgivable advance of up to $10,000, and an optional non-forgivable loan of up to $2M.
The application process for this assistance was not easy, and the ATA provided a guide to assist its members.
Fewer respondents applied for the loan programs, with 22% applying for PPP and 18% for EIDL. However, nearly 80% of those who applied for PPP were successful. Of those who applied for EIDL, nearly 70% of them were awarded the grants and advances, and over 50% received loans.
Where we are and where we go from here
In summary, 37% of respondents received unemployment benefits and 27% received some sort of loan. The success rate for receiving the assistance brings to mind the expression “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
On the other hand, the overall picture for our industry was somewhat less positive.
When asked by how much their interpreting income decreased in the months of March, April and May of this year, 28% responded that their interpreting income had completely disappeared. Just over one-third saw a drop of 80%. In fact, less than 12% of the survey-takers felt no impact at all.
The final question of the survey asked whether there had been an increase in interpreting income in June of 2020. For two-thirds of those responding, the answer was a painful “no”.
As we move forward as an industry, we need to keep this snapshot in mind. It may be a time for building partnerships and networks. It may be that the conferences and training opportunities that interest us are more affordable right now, thanks to the virtual format that eliminates travel and hotel costs and allows us to pick from options around the world. But whether individual answers lie in enhancing skills, exploring other areas of work (language-related or not), going back to school, or taking a hiatus, one thing is very clear: As a professional body, we need to walk gently alongside each other. And we need to do what is in our power to strengthen the industry of which we are all a part.
– The ATA ID Blog Team includes Andreea Boscor, Julie Burns, Gabriela Penrod and Carol Shaw. Many thanks to Milena Calderari-Waldron for her contributions to this article.
For further information: ATA ID August 2020 Survey Results