Updated: 2021-05-04 by
- What Are Unemployment Benefits?
- Are Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits Available?
- Has California Cut Off Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits?
- Who Qualifies for Unemployment Benefits?
- How Are Benefits Calculated?
- How Long Do Benefits Last?
- What Is the Base Period?
- How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits
- Checklist: Information You'll Need to File for Unemployment
- About this Website
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What Are Unemployment Benefits?
Unemployment benefits are payments made by the state to people who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. They are intended to partially replace your lost wages while you look for a new job.
These benefits are provided through an insurance program run jointly by the federal government and California. Each state has its own rules about who qualifies for benefits, how much you can receive, and for how long.
Taxes paid by employers in California fund the program and employers may not deduct these taxes from employee wages. If an employer asks you to agree to have the unemployment insurance tax deducted from your wages, you can refuse. Such an agreement is not enforceable.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government has extended and expanded unemployment benefits through the CARES Act. States have also changed their rules to cover those who are out of work due to COVID-19.
More information about unemployment benefits in California can be found on the website of the California Employment Development Department.
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Are Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits Available?
In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Among other things, the CARES Act created several new unemployment programs, intended to make unemployment benefits more generous and extend them to more people who have lost work due to COVID-19. Congress has twice extended these programs, most recently in the American Rescue Plan that became law on March 11, 2021.
These programs are:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program extends unemployment benefits to those who have lost jobs or work because of the coronavirus pandemic but are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits. If you have lost work due to COVID-19 but don't qualify for regular benefits because you can't meet California's work history requirement, you have used up your state benefits, or you are self-employed (which includes working as a freelancer, gig worker, or other contract worker), you may qualify for up to 79 total weeks of benefits under the PUA program. Learn more about the PUA program here, including eligibility rules and benefit amounts.
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC). This program gave $600 more per week to everyone who is receiving unemployment benefits, whether they are receiving traditional benefits or benefits under the PUA program. However, these benefits were available only through the last full week of benefits payable in July 2020. Congress recently renewed the program at a lower rate: Claimants will be eligible for $300 per week (or $400 per week, for certain claimants who have self-employment income) from December 26, 2020 until September 6, 2021. Learn more about how California calculates unemployment benefits.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This program provides an additional 53 weeks of benefits to those who are still out of work when their state benefits run out. This program expires September 6, 2021. Find out how long your benefits will last in California.
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Has California Cut Off Coronavirus Unemployment Benefits?
To address the cataclysmic job losses created by the Coronavirus pandemic, Congress passed a series of stimulus packages that increased and expanded unemployment benefits. Even though unemployment rates remain high, however, about half of the states have decided to cut off some or all of these benefits in the coming weeks.
Governors in these states -- all Republicans -- have argued that the additional benefits are leading to labor shortages, because workers would rather collect unemployment than return to work. Opponents of the cutoffs point out that unemployment benefits are not available to those who turn down acceptable work -- and that cutting off benefits while the economy is still struggling to recover is short-sighted and cruel. Millions of workers will lose their benefits early due to these state cutoffs.
At issue are these three new federal unemployment benefit programs:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which makes unemployment benefits available to workers who are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits (like gig workers, freelancers, independent contractors, those who haven't worked long enough to qualify for state benefits, and those who have already used up their state benefits).
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides up to 53 weeks of additional weeks of benefits to workers who have used up their state benefits.
- Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), which supplements the amount claimants receive by $300 each week, currently.
Learn more about these programs in How the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Affects California Unemployment Benefits. All of the states listed below are cutting off the extra $300 per week available through the PUC program. Most are also cutting off the other benefit programs.
These programs have been extended several times, most recently until September 6, 2021. However, a growing number of states will soon opt out of these programs, which will make them unavailable to state residents. Among other things, this means:
- independent contractors, gig workers, and others who are collecting unemployment benefits under the PUA program will lose their benefits entirely
- anyone who has used up their state unemployment benefits and is currently collecting benefits under the PEUC program will be cut off, and
- anyone who is still eligible for state unemployment benefits will still receive those benefits, but won't receive the extra $300 weekly amount available under the PUC program.
The earliest states can opt out of these supplemental federal programs is June 12, 2021. As of June 10, 2021, governors in 25 states have said they will cut off benefits to their unemployed workers, effective on the following dates:
Alabama: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
Alaska: Pandemic benefits cut off June 12.
Arizona: Pandemic benefits cut off July 10.
Arkansas: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
Florida: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
Georgia: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
Idaho: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
Indiana: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
Iowa: Pandemic benefits cut off June 12.
Maryland: Pandemic benefits cut off July 3.
Mississippi: Pandemic benefits cut off June 12.
Missouri: Pandemic benefits cut off June 12.
Montana: Pandemic benefits cut off June 27.
Nebraska: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
New Hampshire: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
North Dakota: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
Ohio: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
Oklahoma: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
South Carolina: Pandemic benefits cut off June 30.
South Dakota: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
Tennessee: Pandemic benefits cut off July 3.
Texas: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
Utah: Pandemic benefits cut off June 26.
West Virginia: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
Wyoming: Pandemic benefits cut off June 19.
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Who Qualifies for Unemployment Benefits?
Under normal circumstances, you qualify for unemployment benefits if you:
- lost your job through no fault of your own
- worked during the "base period" required by California unemployment law before you lost your job
- earned enough in the base period to qualify for benefits, and
- worked for an employer required to pay into the California Unemployment Trust Fund (most employers have to pay into the fund with only a few exceptions).
You may qualify for unemployment benefits even if you quit your last job, as long as you quit for a reason that is recognized as good cause to quit by the California Employment Development Department.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some states have expanded their unemployment insurance programs to provide benefits to people affected by the outbreak. If your state has changed its rules in this way, you may be eligible for state benefits if you are out of work for reasons related to the coronavirus. If not, however, you will almost certainly still be covered by the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. For example, you will be eligible for benefits 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.
For more information about eligibilty requirements, see Who is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in California?
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How Are Benefits Calculated?
Each state has its own formula for determining your weekly benefit amount: how much money you will receive each week as your unemployment benefit. Typically, your weekly benefit amount is some percentage of your earnings during the entire base period or the quarter of the base period in which you were paid the most.
Generally, your weekly benefit in California will be one twenty-sixth of your earnings in the highest paid quarter of the base period. If your earnings are lower, however, this might vary. You can look up how much you will receive in the Unemployment Insurance Benefit Table.
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How Long Do Benefits Last?
State law determines how long unemployment benefits last. In the past, virtually all states offered up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. In recent years, however, some states have shortened these entitlements.
In California, you can receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks under state law.
If you are still unemployed when your California benefits run out, you may be eligible for up to 53 more weeks of benefits through the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Once your emergency benefits run out, you may be eligible for extended benefits as well. See How Long Will My Unemployment Benefits Last in California for details on these programs.
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What Is the Base Period?
The base period is the length of time used both to determine your eligibility for unemployment benefits and to calculate the amount you will receive.
In California, the base period is the first four of the five complete calendar quarters immediately before you filed for benefits. For example, if you file for benefits on March 15, 2020, your base period will be from October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019. It would not include the most recent complete calendar quarter before you filed (October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019) or the first two-and-a-half months of 2020.
If you did not earn enough to qualify for benefits during the regular base period, you may be able to use an alternate base period that counts more recent earnings. California's alternate base period is the last four complete calendar quarters before you file for unemployment.
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How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, some states are limiting or barring people from gathering in public places. This may affect your access to the physical office of the California Employment Development Department in person. Check the California unemployment insurance agency website for more information.
You can apply for unemployment benefits in California a couple of ways:
- online by going to the California unemployment insurance agency website, or
- by telephone if you call the California Employment Development Department at 800-300-5616 .
You can find information about how to file your initial claim for benefits and how to file your weekly claim for continuing benefits on the California Employment Development Department website, too. Get more information in our article, How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits in California?
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Checklist: Information You'll Need to File for Unemployment
Whether you file for unemployment online, in person, or by phone, use this checklist to make sure you have all of the information and documents you'll need:
- basic personal information, including your name, address, phone number, and Social Security number
- information on all employers you have worked for in the last year and a half, including the company's name, address, and phone number; the start and end dates of your employment; and your earnings
- the last date you worked for your previous employer
- the reason why you are no longer working for your previous employer
- information on payments you are receiving or expect to receive from your previous employer, such as severance pay, and
- if you are not a United States Citizen, your alien registration number.
You can find out whether you'll need additional documents or information by contacting the California Employment Development Department.
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About this Website
Here at Legal Consumer, we want to help people find answers to everyday legal questions about important topics like bankruptcy, Obamacare, inheritance, and more.
Now, we’ve turned our attention to employment law. Because, while almost everyone has (or has had) a job, it can be surprisingly tough to get good, high-quality local information about workplace rights.
We'll be adding new topics over time, but we’ve started with unemployment benefits. If you’ve recently lost your job, unemployment benefits can be a real lifesaver. They replace some of your income, temporarily, while you look for a new job. But not everyone qualifies for benefits, and the amount and duration of benefits can vary a lot from state to state.
On this website, when you choose your state or enter your zip code, you will quickly learn:
- who is eligible for unemployment benefits
- how to apply for unemployment in your state
- how much you can expect to receive each week
- what to do if your claim for benefits is denied
- and more.
We want to make it as easy as possible for you to get the information, forms, and resources you need to get the unemployment benefits you’re entitled to and move on with your job search.