Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program Fact Check with C.A.R.'s Sara Sutachan
Editor's note: All information below was deemed accurate as of the publish date of this post; May 12, 2020. However, things are changing quickly with COVID-19 relief programs. We'll make every effort to keep this page up to date, but if you have questions or need clarity on anything outlined below, we encourage you to call the C.A.R. COVID-19 hotline at (213) 351-8450 or to visit the California EDD benefits guide.
We were privileged to have Sara Sutachan, C.A.R.’s VP of Industry Relations and Strategic Initiatives, join us for a weekly webinar to talk about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Over the course of an hour, she and host Casey McLeod, Side’s Managing Broker for Southern California addressed many frequently asked questions. They also provided clarity around some of the more confounding aspects of the CARES Act's unemployment component, which is available to real estate agents nationwide.
What’s Happening in California
Phase 2 of stay at home orders happening in CA on Friday; some retail shops opening up.
The Bay area lifted some restrictions on Monday, May 4th.
● New statewide showing regulations:
You can now do in-person showings if you abide by strict best practice guidelines and social distancing rules; though local jurisdiction rules still override state regulations.
● C.A.R. COVID relief hotline now available for agents:
Have questions about financial assistance programs and loans related to COVID-19? C.A.R.’s COVID relief hotline provides 24/7 text support and phone support between the hours of 8:30am and 4:45pm. You can reach a support representative at (213) 351-8450.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program 101
For the first time ever, realtors, business owners, self-employed workers, and independent contractors are able to apply for unemployment benefits.
● PUA is a government-backed program that will not run out of money:
The CARES Act - or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities Act - was voted into law on March 27th, 2020. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program is part of this act. The PUA differs from small business assistance programs, that have a finite amount of money earmarked for distribution.
● Independent Contractors are able to apply now:
The application for independent contractors was made available to California residents on April 28th, 2020.
● Weekly pay is based on prior earnings:
The lowest weekly amount is $167; the highest is $450. The CARES Act also provides a temporary emergency increase of $600 additional dollars per week for four months, between March 29th and July 25th. Realtors will be eligible to receive anywhere between $767 to over $1,050 per week. The EDD asks you to disclose your 2019 net income, and your final weekly benefit is based on that amount.
● Eligibility criteria - you qualify if the following are true:
• You have exhausted all other unemployment options (i.e., if you have W-2 income and qualify for standard unemployment benefits).
• You are not receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits from an employer.
• You do not have the ability to work remotely with pay.
• You are a citizen authorized to work in the United States.
• You cannot work because of COVID-19.
● Where to apply for PUA and where to get application help:
Go here to apply for PUA through the EDD Unemployment Insurance portal. To help ease the application process, C.A.R. released a step-by-step guide to requesting assistance through the PUA, complete with screenshots and answers to frequently asked questions.
● PUA pays retroactively to make you whole:
If you haven’t applied for assistance yet but need to, it’s not too late. If you stopped working on March 19th, when the Governor of California issued the stay at home order, and you didn’t apply until May 2nd, you’ll still be paid starting on March 19th as long as you’re eligible. In fact, applying now may help expedite the repayment process since the application backlog has cleared.
● How to get a status update on your PUA application:
When demand spiked, it was taking as long as two weeks to hear back on an application. However, it seems that the EDD is catching up, and application approvals are moving more quickly now. To get a status update on your application, log back into the EDD website where you submitted your application every 24-48 hours after submission.
● How EDD funds are received:
The EDD uses Bank of America debit cards to distribute funds to recipients. Once your application is approved, a debit card will be mailed to you. This is often the part of the process that takes the most time. Once your card has been received and activated, the EDD will add funds on a weekly basis.
More Information from C.A.R. on PUA:
Questions from the Audience
Sutachan answered the following questions related to PUA from our attendees:
● Real estate is considered an essential service, but there are still limitations in place in many areas. How does that affect an agent's ability to apply for PUA?
Question 1a.3 on the EDD application has 14 options.
One option reads, “You are an independent contractor with reportable income (ex IRS Form 1099), and you are forced to stop working because COVID-19 has severely limited your ability to continue performing your customary work duties.”
Sutachan and her team encourage agents to select this option if it applies to their situation. She says, “Even though we're an essential business right now, nothing is customary. We can't do open houses, Our sellers are on the fence, our buyers are on the fence. That’s the option we’re advising our members to select because your ability to get the income you had last year or the year before is severely impacted by COVID-19.”
● Can I apply for PUA even if I receive social security benefits?
Yes. Social security does not count towards income; thus you can apply for and receive both.
● If I apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), am I also eligible for PUA?
For those who aren’t familiar, the PPP is a small business administration loan designed to help small businesses pay their employees, and it had a failed rollout. A lot of big publicly traded companies received the loan, but many independent contractors did not.
The easy answer to this question, based on the information we currently have, is no. If you're employed by a company that got a PPP loan and you were getting paid through that PPP loan, you're not eligible for unemployment because you’re getting paid. If you're an independent contractor who got a PPP loan to pay your individual commissions, you are not eligible for unemployment because you’re getting paid.
Basically, if you’re getting paid - whether it’s through commission checks or through one of these relief programs, it’s safe to assume you’re not eligible for unemployment benefits. If you get both, it’s considered double-dipping. You’ll likely have to report your earnings to the EDD and may have to pay the EDD back.
● I had several transactions that initiated in February or March and closed after shelter-in-place was put into effect, and got paid in April and May and can show income for those months. How does that affect my application?
The EDD has not issued specific guidance. C.A.R. attorneys are encouraging agents to wait until after any and all checks have been received to apply for benefits to help minimize any complications with the application process. To continue to receive benefits, you have to certify whether you're working and if you're looking for work, every two weeks. If you get a commission check, be honest about it. It may impact your benefit for that week—and we believe it’ll only affect that week—but there’s no clarity from the EDD on that at the moment.
Sutachan says, “Our lobbying team in Sacramento has been in contact with the EDD. Those transactions were in the pipeline before we even knew what COVID-19 was. You have to give the EDD credit for getting realtors into this, but there's also a lot of unknowns, and that's a big one.” The team at C.A.R. will continue to issue updates as they become available from the EDD.
Tremendous thanks to Sara Sutachan for sharing her insight and expertise with us. We know there are thousands of agents out there looking for answers about COVID-19 financial relief programs. Huge thanks to Sutachan and her team for reacting quickly and providing so many great resources for California agents.