California unemployment insurance provides financial assistance to those employees who are temporarily out of work, while CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps, helps low-income residents pay for food. It is entirely possible for someone who is temporarily out of work to require help buying food, and there is no law in California prohibiting someone from accepting help from both of these social welfare programs.
But that doesn't mean that everyone on California's EDD (Employment Development Department) program is eligible for CalFresh, or vice versa. Each program has separate requirements for eligibility and, if accepted, benefits will depend on the applicant's circumstances, including amount of income and number of dependents.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
It is entirely possible for an individual to receive California unemployment payments and CalFresh at the same time, but whether that is possible in a particular case depends on the exact circumstances.
California Unemployment Insurance Basics
An employee who lives in California may meet eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance benefits (UI) if they lost their job through no fault of their own. During the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, new laws opened up these programs to freelance workers and independent contractors as well, but these federal government programs have ended. Generally, California UI benefits are available only to employees whose employers pay into the unemployment insurance program.
Every state has an unemployment insurance program, mandated under federal law. However, the programs are created and administered at the state level. That means that eligibility and benefit levels are not uniform across the country – every state sets their own laws. In California, the program is administered by the California Employment Development Department, commonly called EDD, and eligible employees receive a weekly benefit of between $40 and $450, depending on the wages the individual earned while they were working.
An individual can apply for UI benefits in California by accessing the EDD website and filling in the application. The EDD will respond, letting the person know if they are eligible, how much of an award they can get, and the amount of their weekly benefit (the amount they will receive every week if they continue to be eligible.) Note that someone who takes a part-time job and earns less than $100 a week will still get a weekly check, but it will be reduced by weekly earning that exceed $25.
Declaring Income for UI Benefits
Anyone receiving UI benefits in California is required to certify their income and work status every two weeks in order to continue to be eligible. In this certification, they must affirm that they are unemployed or underemployed and seeking work, and also list all of the income they earned in the period, identifying the source. Those who do not certify will stop receiving benefits.
Not all types of income count against UI benefits. Do CalFresh benefit amounts count as income for UI certification purposes? They do not. Whether a person is eligible for, or receives CalFresh food assistance is irrelevant to UI eligibility.
Income Limit for the CalFresh Benefits Program
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly benefits to low-income individuals. These benefits allow eligible individuals to purchase food at regular grocery stores and many types of markets. Like UI benefit programs, the SNAP benefits program is administered at the state level.
California calls its SNAP program "CalFresh." In order to be eligible for benefits in California, the gross income of all household members must not be more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In addition, net income must not be more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. The amount of CalFresh benefits a household gets depends both on how many people are living there and their combined income. In general, most households qualifying for the program receive over $200 a month from CalFresh.
Declaring Income for CalFresh
Like other social assistance programs, CalFresh is only available to low-income persons or households. That means that to apply for the program, an individual or household must list all of the financial assets they hold, including checking and savings accounts. These bank accounts must be under certain set limits.
They also must list income received, and the total must be under 100 percent (net income) and 200 percent (gross income) of federal poverty levels. For household applications, such as an individual applying for CalFresh for dependents, the income of the entire household must be reported. Do UI benefits count as part of an individual's or household's income? They do.
Income Levels for CalFresh Qualification
While it is entirely possible for an individual to qualify for CalFresh benefits while receiving UI benefits, that depends on how much the individual gets in unemployment compensation. Even if this is a small amount of cash assistance, if others in the household earn a significant gross monthly income, the household income might not qualify.
The current federal poverty level for a household of one person is $1,064.00 a month, and for a household of two people, $1,437.00 a month. If two people in the household are getting UI benefits in California of $400 a week, their combined income of $3,200 is too high for CalFresh eligibility.
Requirement to Seek Work
Any able adults receiving unemployment assistance benefits must fulfill work-search requirements and be prepared to prove that they have made applications or had interviews in order to continue to receive the weekly checks. CalFresh also requires that able adults who are not seniors meet some work-search requirements.
Each county in California enacts its own work-search requirements for CalFresh purposes, so the standards vary across the state. Generally, able adults without dependents wishing to continue to get CalFresh must complete some type of employment search or job retraining by county, but participants may need to complete employment and training activities.
Nothing in the CalFresh requirements conflict with unemployment benefit requirements. Both mandate that recipients of the aid look for work to get them out of their current financial stress. While the programs seem to complement one another, it's important to declare any classes or training that the CalFresh recipient is engaging in to the EDD. EDD personnel will let the individual know whether the classes or training conflict with the UI requirement that the person be free to accept employment.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.