How the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Affects California Unemployment Benefits
On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion stimulus package that pumps money into many areas of our economy that have been impacted by COVID-19, including unemployment benefits. In December of 2020, Congress passed an emergency stimulus bill that extends or renews some of these programs. Read on to learn how the CARES Act affects those who are out of work in California.
More California Workers Are Eligible for Benefits
In every state, employees qualify for benefits if they are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. However, prior to the CARES Act, some categories of workers could not get benefits, including independent contractors (freelancers, gig workers, and the self-employed). The CARES Act authorizes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which makes these workers eligible for unemployment for the first time during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Part-time workers are eligible for benefits under this new program, even if state law does not ordinarily allow them to collect benefits. And, workers who do not have a sufficient work history to qualify for benefits under California's usual eligibility rules might still qualify.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was set to expire on December 26, 2020. Shortly before this expiration date, Congress passed an emergency stimulus measure that extends the program until March 14, 2021. Because the President delayed signing the stimulus measure until December 27, there will be a temporary lapse in benefits under the program (because it briefly expired).
California Workers Who Are Out of Work Due to COVID-19 Likely Qualify for Benefits
The CARES Act also relaxes eligibility rules about the reasons workers are unemployed to allow more workers to collect benefits. For example, you will be eligible for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program if you are out of work for any of these reasons:
- You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms and seeking a diagnosis.
- A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- You are caring for a family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- You cannot work because your child or other household member for whom you are the primary caregiver is unable to attend school or another facility that has closed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- You are unable to go to work because of a quarantine or because you have been advised to self-quarantine by a health-care provider.
- You were scheduled to begin a job that no longer exists or that you can’t get to for reasons relating to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- You have become the breadwinner or major support for your household because the head of household died as a result of COVID-19.
- You have to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
- Your workplace is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Some states have expanded their traditional unemployment programs to cover coronavirus-related job losses.
California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in response to the coronavirus epidemic. Among other things, the order waives the usual one-week waiting period for applicants to receive benefits. California's Employment Development Department has a resource page on coronavirus and employment, and has also issued an FAQ page on coronavirus and unemployment benefits as well as an information page on the CARES Act. If you have lost work due to COVID-19 but don't qualify under your state's rules, you will likely qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.