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The passage of the CARES Act has extended unemployment assistance to millions of independent contractors, freelancers and gig economy workers in the United States who were previously ineligible for such payments. This has been welcome news for California’s approximately 95,000 active real estate agents, the majority of whom are independent contractors. 

In order to provide assistance to those who are ineligible for traditional unemployment insurance benefits, the CARES Act includes a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Those who are eligible for PUA — here’s a helpful breakdown if you’re unsure about your status — will receive $600 per week from the federal government for up to four months on top of their state unemployment insurance benefits. The Feds will also grant you 13 additional weeks of UI benefits after your state-awarded payments run out. 

You must first apply for unemployment assistance through your state to receive payments through the PUA program. Unfortunately, they’re not going to magically appear in your mailbox like the one-time stimulus check of $1,200 promises to.

If you’re a California real estate agent with independent contractor status, you’re probably wondering how much you can expect to receive in state unemployment benefits, and the short answer to that question is: It’s complicated.

Here we explain everything you need to know about filing for unemployment insurance benefits as an independent contractor in the Golden State.

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Your Base Period dictates your weekly UI benefit

In California, eligible UI recipients can expect to receive $40 to $450 per week for up to 26 weeks. Your eligibility and the subsequent amount you will receive depends on the wages earned during your Base Period, a 12-month term that typically begins four to five quarters prior to when you filed your claim. 

While this amount varies from person to person, the average unemployment benefit received in 2019 was about $330 per week for 17 weeks, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

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File your claim online for the fastest results

The process of filing an unemployment claim has proven especially difficult during these unprecedented times. During the week ending March 21st, California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) saw a 363 percent year-over-year increase in the number of unemployment insurance claims processed.

In an interview with NBC 7 San Diego, EDD spokesperson Loree Levy recommended that eligible workers use the department’s online portal to file their unemployment claims as the phone lines have been jammed with callers. 

But before you file online, you’ll need to gather some important documents and information, such as the last date worked and the reason you are no longer working. In a tweet published on March 30th, the EDD directed independent contractors to visit a landing page on how to file an unemployment insurance claim, but this information has not been updated to reflect the inclusion of 1099 contract workers. Livabl reached out to the EDD for clarity on this matter, but we have not yet received a response. 

Update, May 12, 2020: California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) began accepting applications for PUA claims on April 28, 2020, from independent contractors, self-employed indviduals and business owners. To submit a PUA claim online, click here.

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Avoid mistakes and streamline your payments

It can take up to three weeks for a claim to be processed, but the silver lining is that the non-payable one-week waiting period for regular UI benefit payments has been waived by the state. If this is your first time filing for unemployment insurance, it’s important to note that you’ll have to reopen your claim every two weeks to continue receiving benefits — don’t worry, though, it’s fast and easy to complete online. 

If you don’t want to wait for a check to arrive in your mailbox every week, you can request an EDD Visa Debit Card to access your money sooner. Your UI benefit payments will be applied to the card, but you can also opt to transfer the funds to your regular checking account. 

While it can be incredibly frustrating to grapple with overrun online portals when you should be closing deals, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in this struggle.

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