States are working overtime to get Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits to the newly eligible. Here’s how you can apply.

Millions of independent contractors and other self-employed individuals, including a large share of the nation’s 1.4 million REALTORS®, may now be eligible for unemployment benefits under the recently passed CARES Act. Through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, you may now qualify for unemployment benefits for up to 39 weeks if you’ve suffered a loss of income, either completely or partially, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal legislation is brand-new, requiring participating states to expand their existing unemployment programs and resulting in challenges to getting benefits to applicants. Many states have had to build entirely new systems to administer the funds, and all participating states have had to wait for guidance from the federal government in order to disburse the money properly. But now that that the information has been issued, real estate professionals like Carrie Ammons, an agent with RE/MAX Right Choice in Clio, Mich., have successfully navigated the application process. She applied for benefits on April 13, the first day self-employed people were permitted to start applying in her state, and she was accepted on April 22. “I received my first payment on the 23rd,” Ammons said.

Ammons is grateful for the financial lifeline. She’s been unable to pursue much business lately, as real estate is not considered an essential service in Michigan. (Federal guidelines, which include real estate services as essential businesses, do not overrule state orders classifying the industry as nonessential.) And she was well aware of the frustrations many applicants have experienced while seeking benefits. “Since I knew others were also having difficulties, I tried to be patient, but I still checked to see if the status changed a few times a day,” Ammons says. “Once I saw a change in the status go to pending, it gave me hope that things were processing correctly.”

With a combination of good documentation and patience, applicants can improve their chances for a successful outcome. Read on for general tips about the benefits process and how to apply. But check with your state’s website for details about requirements specific to where you live and work. This information is not a substitute for legal or professional financial planning advice applicable to your own circumstances.

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