Nearly two weeks ago, the National Association of Theatre Owners, which represents more than 33,000 movie theaters in the United States, announced that they were pledging $1 million to theater employees affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19). The organization promised that details about the fund would be released shortly, and now it seems they have a two-tiered plan to disburse it to those in need.

$2.4 Million Fund For Employees

On March 18, NATO took $1 million out of its reserves and earmarked it as “seed funds for an effort to help tide workers over in this crisis in cooperation with our industry partners.” Now, thanks to the Pioneer Assistance Fund (via Variety), that seed appears to have bloomed – to the tune of $2.4 million. Today, the organizations made a joint announcement that the first part of their initiative is a grant program which provides a stipend to theater workers who meet a specific set of criteria. To meet the requirements for this first tier, an individual must have worked in theatrical exhibition for a minimum of five years.

Details about the second tier are still in the works, but Variety says the aim is to “expand assistance to a larger group of people who work in the motion picture industry, in the event the current crisis continues for an extended period of time.” It’s a good bet that we’re not going to be emerging from this chaos any time soon, so planning for a more long-term scenario seems like a smart idea. While I’m glad they’re making an effort to help cinema employees, and I’m certainly not in any position to understand the logistics of how funds of this size can be distributed, from the outside looking in, it seems like kind of a bummer that seniority is being taken into account with an aid package. Everyone was essentially furloughed or laid off around the same time, so shouldn’t they be able to pay everyone at the same time? Maybe multi-year veterans should receive a bigger cut of the money, but since everyone is hurting across the board right now, it seems unfortunate to leave employees hanging who have been working in the industry for less than five years.

One thing’s for sure: people need help, and fast. Though Cinemark has kept many employees on board working reduced hours, that chain has now cut its workers’ wages by about 50% in an attempt to keep as many employees on the payroll as possible and to position themselves to be ready for a return when things get back to normal.

Even though the U.S. passed a historic $2 trillion stimulus package last week to help American businesses, it’s tough to put an exact dollar amount on exactly how much of that will go to the movie theater industry. NATO seemed pleased with the fact that theaters will be able to pay their fixed costs while they are unable to generate new revenue, saying “movie theaters can look forward with confidence to re-opening and once again serving their communities.”

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