A network of Hollywood assistance organizations has begun prepping for the possibility of an actors strike this summer.

“We hope there is no work stoppage of any kind, but if there is we want to be ready,” said Carol Pfamkuche, spokeswoman for the Motion Picture & Television Fund. “The difficulty for us would be the increased volume.”

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have set May 10 as a tentative start date for negotiations on a new film-TV contract to replace the current pact, which expires June 30.

Outreach groups mounted an extensive campaign to help cash-strapped actors when SAG and AFTRA went on strike for six months last year.

Pfamkuche stressed that MPTF aid would be available to all members of the industry, noting that the MPTF board is comprised of reps from all sectors. “We are neutral in any disputes,” she said.

Easier to claim

The SAG Foundation, which distributed more than $13 million in aid last year through its strike relief fund, has already pledged to simplify the claims process.

“We want to make it more user-friendly,” said Marcia Smith, exec director of the foundation. “If and when we know there’s a strike, we are going to be prepared.”

Smith also said that chiefs of the assistance funds are working on a centralized database so each fund can share information.

During 1999, the MPTF issued 925 direct cash grants totaling $363,385. Overall, the fund provided $17 million in aid that year including health care, retirement care, child care and other social services.

Doling out dollars

The SAG strike relief fund, aimed at aiding members with rent, mortgages, car payments, insurance premiums and utility bills, handled about 100 cases per week after it was launched in early August. The fund, initially launched with a $500,000 endowment from SAG, targeted actors who had been members of the guild for five years with acting earnings of at least $15,000 per year and 50% of that from commercials.

Nicolas Cage, Harrison Ford, Helen Hunt, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Spacey and Bruce Willis all made six-figure gifts to the fund while a wide range of smaller donations came in, such as $500 from the California Highway Patrol Officers Assn.

The strike relief program was launched to supplement the foundation’s membership assistance program, which has less stringent qualifications; recipients must have earned at least $15,000 in three of the last five years.