As an independent contractor, can I apply for unemployment benefits due to COVID-19?

Yes. The Coronavirus Relief Bill extends the two types of unemployment benefits established under the CARES Act that real estate professionals may be eligible for:

  1. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The FPUC now allows for a $300 benefit through March 14, 2021. Under the CARES Act, this benefit was $600, but expired in July.
  2. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. PUA is based on previous income and now provides benefits for up to 50 weeks. The Texas Workforce Commission will continue to run this program and regular state unemployment benefits under the CARES Act, until March 14, 2021. Eligible workers still receiving benefits as of March 14, 2021, would be able to keep receiving benefit until April 5 (if maximum number of weeks has not been reached).

When will I receive my unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Relief Bill?

Per the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), payments under this legislation are authorized to begin for the payment week ending January 2, 2021. For Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, eligibility will begin on December 27, 2020, with the first payments set for the week ending January 2. If you have an existing claim, you do not need to take any further action. TWC will automatically update your claim and inform you of your potential eligibility.

What are the criteria used for determining if I am eligible unemployment compensation?

Applicants must be able to self-certify that their unemployment is due to one of several COVID-19-related circumstances, including the inability to conduct business due to a lack of clients. For example, widespread social distancing undertaken in response to governmental restrictions may so severely reduce customer demand for a real estate professional’s services as to force him to suspend operations, making that professional eligible for assistance.

Additional documentation of eligibility may be required beginning in January. The Texas Workforce Commission is waiting to receive Department of Labor guidance and will then provide additional information.

As an independent contractor, am I eligible for unemployment benefits in addition to a Paycheck Protection Program loan to cover lost income due to COVID-19?

While nothing prohibits an independent contractor from applying for more than one type of pandemic-related aid, keep in mind that eligibility may change based on a change in an applicant’s circumstances. For example, an independent contractor who receives a PPP loan to cover her income she would have received from commissions should not then apply for unemployment compensation for the period covered by the PPP loan. Additionally, there are specific requirements to qualify for repayment forgiveness for the PPP loan, so it is important to speak with your lender to determine what options are best for you. Texas REALTORS® will continue to provide members with all the available options for relief.

See FAQs specific to Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Does it matter that the governor defined real estate as an essential service?

No. Even if you work in an area that has been defined as essential, you are still eligible for unemployment benefits as long as you meet the criteria established by the CARES Act and by the Texas Workforce Commission.

Do I need to be actively seeking work to receive benefits?

Yes. The Texas Workforce Commission requires you to search for work and make a minimum number of work search activities in every week for which you request unemployment benefits.

TWC determines the minimum number of work search activities based on labor market conditions in your area, so the required number of activities will vary by county and may change as employment conditions change. When you apply for unemployment benefits, TWC will mail you a letter with the required number of work search activities you need to make each week and the date the work search requirement becomes effective.

How will unemployment benefits be calculated?

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits are now $300 per week regardless of income, down from $600 per week under the CARES Act. Under the CARES ACT, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, ranged from a minimum of $207 per week up to a maximum of $521 per week, and were calculated based on the weekly amount of compensation that the individual would have been paid for a week of total unemployment. In computing benefit amounts, the TWC considered an individual’s wages based upon the most recent tax year and net income from all self-employment that was reported on the individual’s tax return. Submission of tax returns or 1099s may have been required to receive more than the minimum weekly payment. TWC has yet to release information on whether the range and calculation of PUA benefits will change.

If I currently collect Social Security or other retirement benefits, am I still eligible for unemployment benefits?

Yes. Unemployment benefits only take into account your employment income, and additional income received through Social Security or retirement will not disqualify an applicant.