Info on Unemployment and Financial Help for Creatives

Willie Nelson | Marymoor Park | Photo by Alan Crick

Last Updated: May 12, 2020

Playing your part in the statewide Stay Home, Stay Healthy measures restricting all gatherings and events will help slow the growth of infection and save lives. As you know, these practices have a tremendous impact on those of us within the creative community. As we move into this new reality, our first step is to support each other in protecting our health and financial stability during this time of enormous change.

Income & Unemployment

Congress approved the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) on 3/27/20 that includes individual checks to American households. Most adults will get $1,200, and children under 16, $500. Some individuals will get less, based on income. You do not need to do anything to apply.


If you’re unemployed to due to the coronavirus, whether from layoff, reduced hours, or mandatory closures, you should apply for unemployment benefits.

Apply in Washington:

As a worker in the creative economy, your main source of income is likely derived from your artistic practice.This typically lands you in the self-employed, or gig worker classification.The unemployment benefit safety net was not originally set up to include self-employed individuals. Most in this classification seeking unemployment find their first application is initially denied. Once that denial has been received, they apply for expanded unemployment benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Some people experienced this notification immediately and others report that it took a few weeks. Workers are encouraged to submit weekly claims as soon as they apply initially.

Here is a helpful Seattle PI Article on applying for unemployment:

The unemployment office requests that you apply online, if possible, due to a high volume of applications. As the employment office is experiencing a record number of applications, they also suggest you apply during off hours (very late at night or very early in the morning). These are times when their system has less traffic and could potentially speed up your application process.

Phone: 800-318-6022

Be sure to have your Social Security Number handy.

Tip: There are reports of long hold times, confusion about filling out the application, and what options apply to the Covid-19 allowances/eligibility. ESD is aware of these delays. If you receive a denial that doesn’t necessarily mean you have been denied. Their customer service people will follow up with you.

ESD recognizes that their forms may not have the questions you’d expect for your category and recommend you apply anyway. They are not set up yet to accept applications for self-employed and sole-proprietors and suggest if you are in that category, you sign up for alerts.

If you encounter these or other barriers, do your best and keep trying. It is more important to file an application that may be incorrect or incomplete than to not submit at all. The ESD systems will catch up with this crisis soon. Set aside a chunk of time each day to manage the administrative side of this crisis.

Washington State Worker Retraining

Washington state recieved a federal grant to support economic recovery from COVID-19. This grant assists workers throughout Washington to get new jobs, receive training for in-demand careers, and get targeted help with their job search.

The grant will:

  • Place laid-off workers into jobs that respond to or mitigate effects of the COVID-19 disaster including positions in emergency management, treatment and quarantine area set-up, unemployment claims intake, behavioral and developmental health, custodial services, delivery, food banks, shelters, and social and human services.
  • Provide workers with career coaches to help create customized re-employment plans,  job searches, and placement into jobs on the state’s COVID-19 essential jobs list and other high-demand occupations, short-term job readiness training for laid-off workers as well as longer-term training.

Contact your local WorkSource center via phone or email for more information.

Bills & Rent

Rent: Washington state has put a stop on residential evictions through June 4th. In Seattle this includes late fees or other charges for late payment of rent. A similar moratorium on commercial evictions for small businesses and nonprofits has been ordered as well.

Utilities: Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light – Utilities Discount Plan. Customers can request a deferred payment plan or apply for a utilities discount. Many other cities and utilities have similar plans. Washington state has requested that utilities don’t shut off your water, electricity or other utilities for non-payment if you’re out of work.

Phone & Internet: This Seattle/King County Resource Guide summarizes what phone and internet providers are offering right now from waived late fees to free unlimited data (p.5)

Tip: Connect to help on housing, utilities, food and more,  Washington Connection and WA 211 are there to help you find things like rent assistance, food and services.

Food & Basic Needs

Childcare: This Seattle/King County Resource Guide summarizes available child care options (p.8).

Food or other supplies dropped off at your front door: you can request aid from the Request Mutual Aid Support Group. You can also volunteer there.

Health & Healthcare: Find info on personal and public health, healthcare and insurance on our Staying Health & Safe page.

Support on general needs:

  • United Way of King County has resources on food, legal services, job resources, bills and more.
  • Washington Connection and WA 211 are there to help you find things like rent assistance, food, bus fare, healthcare and other services.
  • Contact the Office of Civic Legal Aid for help including:  unemployment compensation, eviction & foreclosure, debt collection, and family safety & domestic violence.

Debt & Finances


  • Internal Revenue Service extended the income tax filing due date from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest. The IRS urges taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most tax refunds are still being issued within 21 days, and we’ve heard reports of even faster.
  • United Way of King County offers free tax help to help you file and get your refund, and other tax help programs.

Student loans: You may be able to pause federal student loans.

Mortgages: Mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention information for Washington state homeowners.


Loans, debt, and dealing with your finances:

If you are concerned about your health or the health of a loved one, visit the King County Public Health COVID-19 page, or call the King County Public Health Hotline: 206-477-3977.

As you know, this is a fast moving and unprecedented situation. New details regarding local, state and federal aid for individuals and industries affected by COVID-19 are emerging every day. Many systems are overwhelmed. Please keep in mind, It may take a lot of time for you to connect with agencies, to get a handle on what support you are eligible for, and receive support.

Relief Funds for Artists and Creatives:

  • The 4Culture King County Cultural Relief Fund will distribute $1 million. Applications are now open to individuals who reside in King County and can demonstrate current and ongoing work in the fields of arts, heritage, preservation or public art and organizations whose primary mission relates to arts, heritage, or preservation. The first round of funding will be distributed beginning April 1 through May 15.
  • Artist Relief will distribute $5,000 grants to US artists facing dire financial emergencies due to COVID-19.
  • The Artist Trust Relief Fund: Rapid response grants supporting critical needs of artists whose livelihoods have been impacted by COVID-19. (This fund is currently closed)
  • Seattle Artists Relief Fund Amid COVID-19: fund helping the greater Seattle arts community who have been financially impacted by cancellations due to COVID-19. (This fund is currently closed)

Creative Community Resource Lists and Funds

Here are some included broad lists with support, funds, and other information:

Know of other resources?

We know there are gaps and resources we haven’t discovered yet, and we’re working fast to add more. If you have a resource to add, please let us know about it in this form.


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