California Unemployment Benefits, Amount, Services & Filing

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Californians who experience a layoff or see a substantial reduction in hours will likely be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). When they exhaust these benefits, they will qualify for the federal government's Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and then will be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Self-employed people and independent contractors are eligible for PUA. California has waived the nonpaid waiting week during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Weekly Benefit Amount

The minimum weekly benefit amount (WBA) in California is $40, and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $450. A claimant can get paid via direct deposit or through a debit card. The California Employment Development Department (EDD) issues benefit payments for UI and other types of unemployment benefit programs on the debit card.

EDD also issues benefit payments for disability insurance and paid family leave through the debit card. The debit card is a Visa card from Bank of America. It is valid for three years from the date it is issued.

Work Search Requirement

As of late April 2021, a California claimant is not required to look for work every week to be eligible for benefits. Most UI claimants must register for CalJOBS, the state’s resource that helps job seekers view the state’s workforce services. With CalJOBS, a job seeker can search for jobs and create resumes.

If an individual fails to register and update their resume in CalJOBS, they could lose the ability to receive UI benefits. A claimant has 21 days from the notice date on their Notice of Requirement to Register for Work to meet this requirement. A claimant who has already filed a UI claim can register with CalJOBS.

Identity Documents for EDD

In October 2020, EDD began requiring claimants to verify their identity to file a new unemployment claim. The company EDD is using to accomplish verification is called ID.me. The process for verification involves the claimant being redirected from EDD’s website to the ID.me site. The claimant must then take a personal photo and upload a photo of their ID. The identity verification process is expected to assist EDD in reducing the number of fraudulent unemployment claims.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

California provides 26 weeks of regular unemployment insurance benefits. A person should file for unemployment in the first week they lose their job or see their hours reduced. The claim begins the Sunday of the week they apply for unemployment. An individual can request to backdate their claim to the week they became unemployed due to COVID-19.

A person who filed for unemployment within the last 12 months and has not exhausted their benefits will need to reopen their claim to restart benefits. After an individual exhausts their UI, they will be eligible for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. A claimant can claim 53 weeks of PEUC or until the program expires on September 4, 2021.

Extended Benefits for 20 Weeks

California workers who exhaust their unemployment benefits during a period of high unemployment are eligible for Extended Benefits (EB). EB provides up to 20 additional weeks of benefits. Such benefits are also called Federal-State Extended Duration (FED-ED) benefits.

California offers EB when the state's total unemployment rate is higher than 6.5% and 10% higher than the same time period in either of the two previous years. California EDD only pays FED-ED benefits while California's unemployment rate remains above these percentages. The FED-ED program will continue until California’s unemployment rate drops below the stated percentages.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

A claimant can claim 86 weeks of PUA beginning February 2, 2020, until the program expires on September 4, 2021. In order to establish eligibility, an individual must prove their income. California’s PUA FAQs explains how to submit documents. Acceptable forms of proof include an annual tax return, 1099 forms, W-2 forms, pay stubs and other documents that show income.

A person who is not eligible for regular UI for a reason related to the coronavirus may be eligible for PUA. Coronavirus-related reasons for being out of work include being diagnosed with COVID-19 or experiencing symptoms of the illness and seeking a medical diagnosis, providing care for a family member diagnosed with COVID-19 and having a child who is unable to attend school closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. A person is also eligible for PUA if their place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19 or they were scheduled to start a job that is now unavailable as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Mixed Earners UI Compensation (MEUC)

A worker can receive an additional $100 in the MEUC program if they worked at a job for which they had a W-2 form and also engaged in self-employment in a prior tax year. They must submit proof of income to show they qualify for MEUC. The individual must have made over $5,000 in self-employment income in the year before they were laid off or saw their hours reduced.

Benefit Year Expired

After a claimant’s benefit year has expired, they must file another unemployment insurance claim. If they are currently collecting PEUC benefits and file a new regular UI claim, EDD may continue paying benefits on the person’s PEUC extension. EDD does this if the claimant’s WBA is at least $25 more than the amount on their new regular UI claim. EDD’s action to continue paying benefits on the person’s PEUC extension is allowed under the Deferred New Claim Payment program. The claimant’s regular UI claim will be on hold until they collect all available PEUC benefits or the PEUC extension ends on September 4, 2021, whichever comes first.

Return to Work

An individual who engages in part-time employment should file a claim for unemployment. They qualify for benefits when the wages paid to them, when reduced by $25 or 25 percent of the total, do not equal or exceed their weekly benefit amount. They should report all income earned in the week.

EDD will then pay the person their WBA less the smaller of either the amount of wages the person earned, plus $25, or the amount of wages plus 25 percent of those wages. If an individual earns less than $100 a week, the first $25 of their income does not apply. For example, if an individual’s weekly benefit amount is $145 and the individual earns $26 in the certification week, the individual’s first $25 does not apply, so they will be paid $144 ($145 less $1 = $144).

If an individual returns to full-time employment, they can simply stop claiming benefits. They do not need to call EDD to report their return to work. The rules regarding the reduction in payments for part-time workers do not apply to an individual claiming benefits under the Work Sharing Program. A separate section of the UI code provides a distinct definition of unemployed for these individuals. There is also a different method for calculating the reduced amount payable to such workers.

California Schools Are Reopening

California schools are reopening for in-person learning, but not all schools are reopening for five days a week of in-person instruction. Schools may be offering hybrid instruction, which means a parent or guardian will have to remain at home to care for a child on the days and times the child cannot be physically at the school campus.

This means the parent or guardian may not be able return to full employment. A parent or guardian in this situation should apply for UI benefits. EDD determines their eligibility by scheduling a phone interview and discussing options, such as staying at a current position and working fewer hours.

File an Appeal

A claimant who disagrees with EDD’s decision to reduce or deny unemployment benefits should submit their appeal in writing within 30 days of the mailing date on the notice of determination and/or ruling. A claimant can download the appeal form on EDD’s website or use the copy included with their notice of determination. If the individual does not have a copy of the appeal form or cannot print a copy, they can write a letter to EDD regarding their request for an appeal. The Office of Appeals will notify the claimant of the time and location of the hearing at least 10 days in advance.

Finding a Job

EDD provides information about job fairs and workshops by region. The three regions are: the northern region, the southern region, and Los Angeles and the coastal region. The LA and coastal region includes the coastal counties from Santa Cruz County to Ventura County. The listings include virtual and in-person events.

In-person events may require prior registration, with registration to be completed at least one day before at the reception desk in the EDD center’s lobby, online through CalJOBS or online through a branch of EDD such as EDD’s Workforce Services Branch.

Unemployment Fraud and Penalties

EDD has seen a high number of incidents of unemployment fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acts of unemployment fraud include making a false statement to EDD and withholding facts from EDD, such as the amount of wages a claimant has earned. Punishments for unemployment include repaying the benefits collected, as well as penalties and fines, losing eligibility to collect future benefits, jail or prison time and loss of future income tax refunds.

Work Sharing Program

EDD’s Unemployment Insurance Work Sharing program is a temporary solution to layoffs. In order to participate in the Work Sharing program, an employer must include at least two employees and at least 10 percent of their regular workforce or a department of their workforce in the program. Through the program, an employer can reduce the hours and wages of a group of employees by 10 to 60 percent.

An approved Work Sharing plan is active for one year. A Work Sharing plan always begins on Sunday. The earliest date an employer can start a new Work Sharing plan is the Sunday before the first day they contact EDD.

Employees’ health and retirement benefits must remain the same as before or meet the same standards as other employees not participating in work sharing. The employer must notify employees in advance that they plan to engage in the program. If employees are unionized, their bargaining unit must agree to voluntarily participate and sign the application for work sharing. The employer is required to rehire the laid-off employees as business conditions improve. Rehired employees must work their pre-layoff schedule for one week without a reduction in hours before participating in work sharing.

Overpayments and Penalties

When EDD pays a claimant an unemployment benefit that they were not legitimately owed, it sends a notice of overpayment. EDD classifies overpayments as either fraud or nonfraud. For a fraudulent overpayment, EDD will assess a penalty that is 30 percent of the overpayment amount and disqualify the claimant from receiving unemployment benefits for between five and 23 weeks.

If the overpayment is not fraudulent, EDD may or may not require the claimant to repay the amount. EDD will send a notice indicating its decision. EDD can deduct money from future UI and state disability insurance benefits. It can also reduce or withhold federal and state income tax refunds, state lottery winnings or other money the state owes the claimant; file a claim against the claimant in court and charge court costs and interest; and record a lien on the claimant’s property.