The majority of real estate agents are self-employed or independent contractors. While under normal circumstances these professionals wouldn't be eligible for unemployment benefits, the CARES Act has changed all that.
The massive stimulus package passed in March includes provisions for a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program that broadens the scope of unemployment benefits and extends coverage to the self-employed.
Under the new law, these professionals can apply for both full and partial unemployment if their pay has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (or the shutdowns and social distancing orders that resulted from it).
Eligibility for unemployment
Just being a self-employed agent isn't enough to qualify you for the benefits, though.
According to the CARES Act, you need to meet a number of other requirements, including:
- You can't be eligible for traditional unemployment benefits.
- You can self-certify that you are able to work but are unable to due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- You're unable to work remotely and continue earning a paycheck.
To prove your self-employed or contracting status, you may be required to provide 1099s, 1040s, or your previous tax returns. Bank statements and statements of profit and loss may also be required, depending on your state's process.
How much can you get?
Unemployment pay is issued weekly and is based on the wages you reported in the previous tax year (here's a breakdown of weekly minimums and maximums by state). Thanks to the PUA, unemployment recipients also receive an additional $600 per week due to the pandemic.
As of now, you can continue receiving unemployment benefits through Dec. 31 -- as long as you remain eligible (and your pay is impacted by the pandemic). The additional $600 only lasts through July 31.
States are allowed to issue unemployment benefits to self-employed workers and independent contractors under the CARES Act, but they're not required to. Ultimately, your ability to claim unemployment depends "on your personal circumstances and how your state chooses to implement the CARES Act," according to the Department of Labor.
Unfortunately, agents and other nontraditional workers in several states have reported problems claiming unemployment benefits -- those in Nevada, Ohio, and Florida included. The sheer volume that states are seeing in unemployment requests is also delaying states' implementation of PUA benefits.
To see how your state is handling PUA claims, check with the state workforce commission.
If you're an agent who is not self-employed or considered an independent contractor by your employer, then you're eligible for traditional unemployment benefits through your state.
Similar to PUA, you have to be willing and available to work but unable to due to circumstances out of your control (not due to misconduct, for example). Not working due to COVID-19 qualifies you.
The bottom line
If you're a real estate agent, you should be eligible for unemployment if you've been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since unemployment benefits are handled at the state level, though, you'll have to check with your state's workforce agency to be sure.
In the meantime, if you are continuing to work, check out these ways to protect yourself during COVID-19 and follow these open-house precautions.