NAR Helps Secure Key Provisions in Coronavirus Bill for Realtors

John Jordan | March 2020

The United States Capitol

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a $2-trillion COVID-19 compromise economic relief package on March 25. The bill now goes to the U.S. House, where it is expected to pass, and President Trump has said he will sign the much-needed measure into law.

The National Association of Realtors reports the bill includes $350 billion for the Small Business Administration 7(a) loan program. Under the terms, eligible businesses (500 employees or fewer) can get up to $10 million toward mortgage interest, rents, utilities and payroll costs. A portion of these loans will be forgivable.

“We worked with the drafters of this legislation to ensure that independent contractors and those living on a commission-based income will be eligible for the loans as well as the forgiveness provision,” said Shannon McGahn, senior vice president of government affairs for NAR.

The self-employed and independent contractors are also included in a dramatic expansion of unemployment insurance that could provide benefits for up to 39 weeks. These workers are not usually covered under traditional state unemployment benefit programs.

In addition, the COVID-19 relief bill contains:

• A delay in payment of employer payroll taxes, with half due by the end of 2021 and the other half due by the end of 2022;

• $500 billion to support large businesses like airlines affected by the virus;

• A one-time payment of $1,200 to most adult Americans and $500 per child.

“This is the largest financial rescue package in our nation’s history,” McGahn continued. “Combined with two other relief packages that have already been signed into law and a likely fourth bill in the near future, this action represents a seismic and definitive action to help Americans and the economy through this national emergency.”

NAR will provide a complete analysis of the bill and how it affects Realtors Watch for regular updates at nar.realtor.

“We have worked closely with Congressional leaders and the administration during the past several weeks to ensure all three bills bring relief to the self-employed, independent contractors, and small businesses,” McGahn said. “The real estate industry is responsible for millions of jobs and is key to our national recovery.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said the bill will deliver more than $40 billion to New York State.

“This is not a moment of celebration but rather one of necessity,” said Schumer. “The more than $40 billion of additional help on the way to New York is essential to save lives, preserve paychecks, support small businesses, and much more. These critical dollars will inject proverbial medicine into our state, city and localities throughout Upstate New York, to deliver much-needed resources, right now, that can help combat the coronavirus. Like all compromise legislation, this bill is far from perfect—but it now does much more for this state, its people and its future than what we began with.”

First, this relief package includes a dramatic and historic expansion and reform of the unemployment insurance program, something Schumer has called “Unemployment Insurance (UI) on steroids.” The extended and expanded UI program in the agreement increases the maximum unemployment benefit amount by $600 per week above one’s base unemployment compensation benefit and ensures that workers who are laid-off or out of work, on average, will receive their full pay for four months, a full quarter. It ensures that all workers are protected whether they work for small, medium or large businesses, along with the self-employed and workers in the gig economy, who might travel from Upstate to work in the city each day. The $260-billion plan will deliver at least $15 billion directly to New York. Payments of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couple’s accounts for another $15.5 billion to New York.

The second major priority of Schumer’s negotiating was to deliver a Marshall Plan for hospitals and other medical facilities so they can provide necessary care during this pandemic. Schumer was able to create this plan and include over $150 billion for it nationally. Given the New York is the national epicenter of the pandemic, billions of dollars will begin flowing to New York right away. The money will be available to fund efforts critical to defeating the virus. That includes a massive new grant program for hospitals and health care providers, personal and protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, new construction to house patients, emergency operation centers and more. Additional funding is also dedicated to delivering Medicare payment increases to all hospitals and providers to ensure that they receive the funding they need during this crisis, and new investments in our country’s Strategic National Stockpile, surge capacity and medical research into COVID-19.

Third, Schumer, said he negotiated a special program to deliver relief to those entities, to help stabilize the ones hardest hit by the virus, like Westchester. An expenditure relief fund of roughly $150 billion dollars will deliver at least $7.5 billion to New York, with more than $168

million going to Westchester County, over $159 million headed towards Erie County, and more than $128 million for Monroe County.

Fourth, Schumer stated he also negotiated a small business rescue plan that allocates more than $375 billion to forgivable loans and grants to small businesses and non-profits so they can maintain their existing workforce and help pay other expenses during this crisis, like rent, a mortgage or utilities. The self-employed, independent contractors, and sole proprietors are eligible for assistance. New York, with its 2.2 million small businesses and tens-of-thousands of non-profits can expect to see billions of dollars once companies and organizations begin to apply for those funds. New York State small businesses that currently have more than 19,000 existing SBA loans will also have relief from the burden of paying those loans with a new policy of the SBA instead paying the principal, interest, and fees for a six-month period.

The bill also includes several “emergency appropriations” totaling $180 million that range from billions for hard-hit airports, expanded benefits to SNAP, increased CDBG which helps all our municipalities, funding for child care, of which New York would receive an additional $162 million, nutrition for seniors, nearly $1 billion to help heat homes when income becomes a problem, and $1.5 billion for the National Guard to support to the hardest hit States and territories, like New York where approximately 2,200 members of the National Guard have been activated, amongst other things. New York will see tens-of-billions from this account, as well, the Senator noted.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized the Senate bill and expressed hope that the House would make improvements to the proposal.

Communications Director for Gov. Cuomo Dani Lever released a statement on why the governor characterized the Senate bill as “terrible” for New York State.

“Based on initial reports, New York State government gets approximately $3.1 billion. As a percent of our total state budget—1.9%—it is the second lowest amount in the nation. Literally 48 states get a higher percentage in funding than New York State. For example, South Dakota gets 17.9%. This is despite the fact that New York State is incurring the greatest costs as we have the highest number of cases in the country. New York State has 30 times the number of cases as Texas’s 1,031. The gross political manipulation is obvious. For example, Wyoming, which only has 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases, is getting 17.1 percent of their budget as a payment from the federal government.”

Lever added that New York State contributes more to the federal government than any other state. “It is just another case of politics over sound policy,” she stated.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth