Freelance Writing Gigs Drying Up? Here Are 8 Financial Aid Programs

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The coronavirus has put freelance writers all across the U.S. in dire professional and financial straits, but several organizations and government programs have stepped in to offer assistance.

Freelance writers commonly rely on media outlets, live events and advertisers for gigs, all of which have been heavily impacted by the current economic downturn.

During an April 14 Authors Guild webinar, Executive Director Mary Rasenberger said freelance writers are in a gray area in terms of eligibility for government assistance under the newly enacted CARES Act.

“The situation you probably find yourself in is that your work has just rapidly decreased in volume,” she said. “The Authors Guild is calling for an amendment for clarification for freelancers who work from home primarily but may have seen their work dry up.”

That’s where grants come in. You can apply now while the questions about the new legislation get ironed out. Here’s how.

Grants and Aid for Freelance Writers Affected by the Coronavirus

We tailored a list of grants and relief programs available nationally for freelance writers across many disciplines.

1. The American Society for Journalists and Authors

The ASJA is a membership organization open to nonfiction freelance writers. In 1987, it established the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund. The program is now available to assist freelance writers who are currently ill or caring for someone who is ill.

Funds are determined on a case-by-case basis.

You don’t have to be an ASJA member to apply for assistance but must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Have five or more published articles or essays at regional or national publications. Self-published blog posts don’t count.
  • Have one published book by a “major” publisher. Self-published books may be accepted under certain circumstances.

Before beginning the application, gather all the necessary documentation: Clips, bios and book credits to prove your publication history, tax forms such as 1040 and W4s, copies of medical documentation and more will be required.

2. Authors League Fund

The Authors League Fund was established in 1917 as a resource for American residents and citizens who are experiencing financial hardship. The fund has since been retooled to meet the current pandemic.

As you’ll notice in the application guidelines, the funds are sometimes referred to as loans because they are based on a repayment honor system with “no strings attached.” The amount of the loans are based on your need, but during the application process you’ll need to show definitively why you’re requesting a specific amount.

Applicants should be “career writers” from a wide array of fields. Book authors published by an established agency (not self-published) are accepted, as are journalists, essayists and a host of other non-fiction writers who write for publications with “strong editorial oversight.”

Writers in advertising or public relations aren’t eligible.

The organization accepts emailed and faxed applications, but it recently launched an online application portal. Be ready to answer a questionnaire on your published work, taxable income and other emergency circumstances.

Corroborating documents aren’t required to apply, but including them up front should speed your application along.

3. Carnegie Fund for Authors

The Carnegie Fund for Authors traces its birth back to 1890, when Andrew Carnegie gifted the The Authors Club a $10,000 grant to help authors experiencing financial hardship due to illness or injury.

Today, emergency grants are available to fiction and nonfiction authors who have published “at least one full-length work” by a “mainstream publisher.”

According to the eligibility guidelines, hardback, softback, and ebook formats are acceptable as long as they aren’t self-published.

Applications are available for download after you register an account on the website. Your basic information will be screened before you can access an application, which should demonstrate a clear need for assistance.

4. Leveler

Leveler, a no-frills, volunteer-based website, was built to aid freelance, service-industry and gig workers affected by the coronavirus. The concept is similar to other crowdfunding websites, except that this “peer to peer wealth distribution” platform is laser focused on the current pandemic.

How much aid you request and what information you share is all based on the honor system. Signing up to receive funds is straightforward. You’ll need to include your email, industry, location, a url to your Venmo, Paypal or Cash App account, your social media handle(s) and some context on your situation. That’s it.

Some of that information will be made public to donors, who are encouraged to send $5 or $10 at a time. When you receive your requested amount, the founders ask that you remove your name from the list. If you receive more than that, they encourage you to pay it forward to another person on the list.

5. PEN America

PEN America is part of a nonprofit organization made up of more than 100 other PEN centers across the world, all of which advocate for freedom of expression.

Due to the coronavirus, the advocacy organization is expanding its long-standing Writers’ Emergency Fund “as part of our efforts to support the literary community at a time when the health and livelihoods of so many are at risk.”

Approved applicants will receive grants for $500 or $1,000.

To be eligible for the Writers’ Emergency Fund, you must be a U.S.-based author who has an established “professional identity as a writer.” Poets, playwrights, fiction writers, journalists, essayists and critics are eligible for grants so long as they have published, reputable work over the last two years. (Dramatists and other musical theater writers should apply for aid through the Dramatists Guild Foundation.)

PEN America is accepting applications through Submittable. The questionnaire asks for career-related information – including three professional references – and other financial details such as typical monthly expenses, latest tax returns and how much money you’re requesting.

Grants are distributed through PayPal. A PEN membership isn’t required, though members may get priority.

Other Government Assistance

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For the first time nationally, freelance and self-employed workers are eligible for unemployment assistance and business loans through the CARES Act.

The situation you probably find yourself in is that your work has just rapidly decreased in volume.

The finer details are still being hammered out on a state-by-state basis. Expect delays.

  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans: An EIDL is a cash advance of up to $10,000. The funds are provided by the Small Business Administration to organizations with less than 500 employees that are experiencing a temporary loss of revenue due to the pandemic. “Sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons” are eligible. That’s you, freelancers. The loans don’t have to be repaid either, effectively making them grants.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: PUA is run through state unemployment offices. It’s available to those typically ineligible for unemployment insurance. PUA grants half of the state’s average unemployment insurance payment, plus a $600 weekly bonus from the federal government. The federal bonus lasts up to four months, and the entire program may last up to 39 weeks.
  • Paycheck Protection Program: PPP funds are geared toward small businesses, but self-employed workers can also apply for relief through their local banks. It is not unemployment assistance per se. It’s a forgivable loan that covers up to 2.5 times the applicant’s average net income. This program requires a well-documented paper trail to prove average monthly earnings. If the loan is used for mostly salary (some expenditures like rent or utilities are OK) it will be forgiven.

Freelance writers’ ability to telework may play a part in eligibility for funds, particularly for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, but that shouldn’t stop you from applying.

“In any case, furloughed or not… incorporated or unincorporated… apply for everything,” said Robert Pesce in the webinar. Pesce is a CPA and a partner at Marcum, a public accounting advisory firm. “That’s the only way you’ll learn.”

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.