As cities and states enforce shelter-in-place and strict social distancing measures, small business owners and independent contractors are facing the possibility of financial ruin as current federal relief plans offer little help. As a result, real estate companies and associations are advocating for their members by supporting legislators and policies that support self-employed workers.

The New York State Association of Realtors is the latest real estate organization to jump in the political fray by supporting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s request for federal disaster unemployment assistance that will support the state’s 1.2 million independent contractors.

Jennifer Stevenson

“Independent contractors, including the state’s nearly 60,000 Realtors have had their ability to provide for their families curtailed as part of the broad effort to control and end the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NYSAR President Jennifer Stevenson in a prepared statement. “By tapping this federal resource, New York State is helping hard-working independent contractors to survive in these difficult times so that they can be ready to assist the public when we emerge from this health emergency.”

According to Politico, Governor Cuomo submitted the request for disaster unemployment assistance on March 16. Most notably used after the 9/11 terror attacks and Hurricane Sandy, the disaster unemployment fund would offer aid to independent contractors who don’t qualify for state unemployment assistance.

If Cuomo’s request is approved, New Yorkers would be able to apply for federal disaster unemployment assistance (DUA) if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • “Injured in the disaster and unable to work, whether the person is an employee or self-employed.
  • Workplace is damaged, or destroyed, or the person cannot work because of the disaster.
  • Transportation to work is not available because of the disaster.
  • Cannot get to work because they must travel through the affected area, which is impossible due to disaster.
  • Scheduled to begin working, but cannot because of the disaster.
  • Derived most of income from areas affected by the disaster, and business is closed or inoperable because of the disaster.”

To start the process, independent contractors must apply for regular unemployment benefits by calling the New York State Department of Labor. During that process, contractors must explain that they’ve lost their job due to a federally declared disaster and meet DUA criteria.

From there, applicants must provide tax documents as evidence of self-employment, which will be reviewed and processed by the United States Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Once approved, applicants will receive weekly checks from the New York Department of Labor via a state-issued debit card.

DUA benefits are given on a week-by-week basis, so applicants must file new claims each week proving they are still unemployed, according to an explainer on the state’s Department of Labor website.

National Employment Law Project Program Director Maurice Emsellem told Politico rigamarole has prevented New Yorkers from taking full advantage of past DUA opportunities, something NYSAR hopes Cuomo will streamline so real estate agents can receive quicker assistance.

“We thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership and applaud his administration’s efforts to keep independent contractors afloat during these troubling times,” Stevenson concluded. “Though this pandemic has brought a certain level of unpredictability to business and everyday life, we look forward to helping consumers of residential and commercial property achieve their goals.”

The White House gave Politico “no comment” on when Governor Cuomo’s request will be approved. Cuomo has pushed back against Trump’s suggestion that coronavirus restrictions be eased in order to help the economy.

“While we continue to pursue long-term statewide reforms that will ensure all gig-economy workers receive the protections they deserve while maintaining the job flexibility they enjoy, it is clear the coronavirus epidemic will have a real impact on these New Yorkers — and they deserve protections now,” said Cuomo spokesperson Jack Sterne.

Email Marian McPherson

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