The Federal CARES Act

What it means for Wisconsin REALTORS®

 Tom Larson  |    May 11, 2020

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law to provide financial relief to families, small businesses, individuals who are self-employed and independent contractors. The CARES Act establishes several key programs that could be beneficial for REALTORS® and real estate companies that have incurred financial hardship due to COVID-19, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).

The following is a summary of the PUA and PPP programs and how they apply to REALTORS® in Wisconsin. Note: At press time, the U.S. Department of Labor was in the process of developing further guidance on these programs.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

The PUA program extends unemployment benefits to individuals who are not traditionally eligible, including the self-employed. The program will be administered through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). 

Which individuals qualify for the PUA?

To qualify for PUA, an applicant’s unemployed status must be a direct result of COVID-19. This includes situations where the applicant has been diagnosed with COVID-19, has a household member diagnosed with COVID-19, is unable to reach their place of work because of a quarantine, had his or her work closed due to COVID-19, had to quit his or her job because of COVID-19, or has a child unable to attend school or daycare as a direct result of COVID-19. 

Will individuals engaged in telework be able to qualify for PUA? Does this include REALTORS®?

The CARES Act provides that individuals able to do telework with pay and those receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits are ineligible for PUA. 

What this means for REALTORS®: The WRA firmly believes REALTORS® qualify for PUA. While REALTORS® can complete certain job functions through telework, that work is not done “with pay” as contemplated by the CARES Act. The WRA and the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) will continue to work with state and federal regulators to ensure REALTORS® adversely affected by COVID-19 have access to PUA.

Are self-employed individuals allowed to receive unemployment benefits under PUA?

Yes. Under PUA, a self-employed worker, independent contractor or freelancer is eligible to receive unemployment benefits. 

How do self-employed individuals qualify for PUA?

A self-employed individual must certify that he or she is self-employed, is seeking part-time employment, does not have sufficient work history, or otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment or extended benefits and satisfies one of the conditions listed above. 

What is the current weekly benefit in Wisconsin? How will that benefit change once PUA is implemented?

Wisconsin’s maximum weekly benefit is currently $370. The CARES Act provides a lump sum of $600, funded by the federal government, that will be added to employees’ maximum weekly benefit through July 25, 2020. This brings the total benefit to $970.

For how long will this added federal benefit be available? 

The PUA program will be available through July 25, 2020. In addition, unemployment benefits have been extended an additional 13 weeks when regular unemployment insurance is exhausted through the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. With these additional 13 weeks, the total employment benefits will be available for 39 weeks in Wisconsin for employees unemployed or underemployed due to certain COVID-19-related reasons. 

These extended benefits are available to employees who have exhausted or are otherwise ineligible for regular unemployment benefits, and self-certification requirements apply. Extended benefits are not available to employees who are able to telework or who are receiving other paid leave from their employer.

Will REALTORS® engaged in partial employment or operating under reduced business activity be eligible for PUA? Will REALTORS® engaged in telework be eligible for PUA?  

PUA benefits also are available to eligible individuals who are “partially employed.” Under Wisconsin law, the Work-Share program allows employees to continue working with reduced hours and receive a prorated unemployment benefit. Currently, the Work-Share program does not apply to independent contractors or sole proprietors.

What this means for REALTORS®: REALTORS® should watch for additional guidance on PUA eligibility while they continue to operate under reduced business activity created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, track your total hours worked and make a good faith estimate regarding the percentage of time worked during a traditional workweek. REALTORS® should keep a log and watch for additional guidance.

Paycheck protection program (PPP)

The CARES Act appropriates more than $360 billion in loans to help small businesses during this time. One of the loan programs created is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans based on the average monthly payroll expenses of a business.

Who can apply for these loans? Are the loans available to REALTORS®, brokers and firms?

The loans are available to all small businesses with fewer than 500 people. The loans are also available to self-employed individuals and independent contractors. 

What this means for REALTORS®: PPP loans will be available to REALTOR® brokerages as well as independent contractors or agents. However, brokerages and their independent contractor agents must apply separately with a lender. 

What can the money be used for?

Loans can be used to cover payroll costs, mortgage interest payments, rent, utilities, or interest on other existing debt obligations.

How much money can I borrow with a PPP loan? 

Applicants will receive a maximum loan amount of 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs, capped at $10 million. No entity may obtain more than one PPP loan.  

Payroll costs include salaries, wages, commissions, separation payments, payments for group health and retirement benefits, and payments of state or local employment taxes and compensation, but exclude compensation of an individual employee in excess of $100,000.

What are the loan terms and conditions?

All loans under the program will have identical features. The loans will feature a 1.0% interest rate and maturity of two years. The first payment is deferred for six months, but interest will accrue during this time. The PPP loans are 100% guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and no collateral personal guarantees are required. 

What this means for REALTORS®: These loans may also be fully forgiven, if used for qualifying purposes and the borrower meets the employment requirements.

Where can I apply for a PPP loan?  

Loan applications must be submitted through an SBA lender. Check with your local bank or credit union. You can also find nearby eligible lenders at You can find the borrower application form at

What is the timeline for applying?

The deadline to apply for a PPP loan is June 30, 2020, but there is a funding cap on the amount of loans available, and loans are available on first-come, first-served basis. REALTORS® should apply as soon as possible. 

Are the loans available to affiliated businesses? Our brokerage is affiliated with numerous others across the state. Will we each qualify for PPP loans?

Yes, under certain circumstances. The CARES Act allows affiliated businesses operating as a franchise that are assigned franchise identifier codes from the SBA to participate in the program. The SBA is expected to provide additional clarity regarding affiliate participation in the future.

Will the loans be completely forgiven?

No, not necessarily. To obtain complete loan forgiveness, borrowers must use all the loan proceeds for forgivable purposes and maintain consistent full-time equivalent (FTE) employee count and payroll levels. If payroll costs or employee count drops, not all the loan will be forgiven.  

PPP loans will be forgiven if the funds are used to cover payroll costs, interest payments on mortgage loans or rent obligations, and utility payments. Borrowers should be aware that at least 75% of the PPP loan proceeds must be used for payroll costs to receive maximum forgiveness.

Tom Larson is Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs for the WRA.


To provide further clarification about the CARES Act unemployment and additional initiatives surrounding the coronavirus, the WRA legal team has developed two documents consisting of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the CARES Act and additional initiative:

Also watch Episode 2 of Legal Update Live: “Unemployment for REALTORS® Under the CARES Act,” featuring the WRA legal team and Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman, at

Loan scenario examples

Scenario 1

Our brokerage relies on employees and independent contractors. When filing for the PPP loans, how will we calculate our payroll costs, and how much can we expect to receive?

For brokerages, payroll costs will be determined based on any administrative or corporate employees. The aggregate payroll costs will be determined from the last 12 months. Employers such as brokerages must also exclude any portion of a salary or wages in excess of $100,000. 

As employers, brokerages must exclude any payroll costs associated with independent contractors. Independent contractors have the ability to apply for a PPP loan on their own and do not count for purposes of a brokerage’s PPP loan calculation.

Example 1:

A brokerage has no employees making more than $100,000.

  • Annual payroll: $120,000
  • Average monthly payroll: $10,000
  • Multiply by 2.5 = $25,000
  • Maximum loan amount is $25,000

Example 2:
Some employees make more than $100,000.

  • Annual payroll: $1,500,000
  • Subtract compensation amounts in excess of an annual salary of $100,000: $1,200,000
  • Average monthly qualifying payroll: $100,000
  • Multiply the monthly payroll by 2.5 = $250,000
  • Maximum loan amount is $250,000

What this means for REALTORS®:

When applying for a PPP loan, small business brokerages must be sure to exclude commissions paid to independent contractors. Independent contractors will file their own PPP loan application. 

Scenario 2

I am an independent contractor compensated primarily through commissions. Am I eligible for a PPP forgivable loan? How can I estimate the loan amount available to me? How are commissions treated?

Yes, you are eligible for a PPP forgivable loan. The SBA directs that independent contractors should apply for their own loan. Payroll costs are based on wages, commissions, income or net earnings from self-employment or similar compensation. REALTORS® should identify this compensation for the previous 12 months. Individual applicants will be required to submit documentation to establish eligibility, including payroll tax filings reported to the IRS, Form 1099-MISC, and income and expenses.  

Example 1:

Independent contractor with annual wages, commissions, income or net earnings of $60,000.

  • Annual payroll: $60,000
  • Average monthly payroll: $5,000
  • Multiply the monthly payroll by 2.5 = $12,500
  • Maximum loan amount is $12,500

What this means for REALTORS®:

REALTORS® should identify commissions received in the previous year and work with their lender to ensure these amounts are properly reflected in the loan application.


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