Virginia symphony employees receive unemployment benefits

Virginia Delegate Manoli Loupassi has recently been alerted that members of Virginia’s symphony orchestras are collecting unemployment insurance benefits during the off-season, and has introduced a bill to close this loophole:

House Bill 1254 would make symphony performers between orchestra seasons ineligible for unemployment between orchestra seasons if they performed during the last season and plan to perform in the upcoming season.

Loupassi said Monday that he introduced the legislation after being alerted to the fact that many performers in the state were collecting unemployment each year.

“They’re not unemployed. They know they’re coming back. They always come back,” Loupassi said. “They just have a job that’s seasonal. Baseball players don’t get to collect unemployment in the off season.”

It’s certainly no surprise that people abuse unemployment insurance, but it is somewhat of a shock to see just how pervasive the practice is in the orchestral community:

Richmond Symphony executive director David J.L. Fisk said that about a quarter of the orchestra’s 70 members collect unemployment in any give year, and an even higher number of the Virginia Symphony’s members.

“It’s a significant financial burden on both orchestras,” Fisk said, noting that performers for the symphony’s 38-week season earn between $33,000 and $44,000.

The Richmond Symphony pays its unemployment insurance out of pocket to the tune of about $70,000 a year, he said. But the bulk of the Virginia Symphony’s claims go directly through the state’s system, funded with taxpayer dollars.

While this is certainly a welcome fix, it is discouraging that such abuse could go unnoticed for so long, and this certainly raises questions about the integrity of the unemployment insurance program.

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