Updated: 2021-03-11 by
In California, you can earn up to $450 per week in unemployment benefits under state law. Additional money is available under federal law, however.
Until September 6, 2021, unemployment claimants in most states are eligible for an additional $300 in benefits per week, on top of their state benefit amount, under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act"). (If you lost income from both employment and self-employment, you may be eligible for $400 extra per week.)
This program (called Pandemic Unemployment Compensation) was providing an additional $600 per week in benefits, until it expired at the end of July 2020. Congress renewed the program at the lower amount of $300 per week in December of 2020, and extended it in March of 2021. This temporary program is now set to expire on Labor Day in most states; however, some states have decided to opt out of this program early.
Every state has its own rules for calculating unemployment benefits. Typically, the amount you receive each week is based on your earnings when you were employed. After all, unemployment benefits are intended to replace some of the income you lost along with your job, and tide you over until you find new work.
Calculating Your Benefit Amount
Your weekly unemployment benefit amount depends on your earnings during the base period.
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.Currently, the most you can receive under California law each week is $450 per week; the minimum amount you can receive is $40 per week. These limits are adjusted from time to time for inflation. For benefit weeks from December 26, 2020 until September 6, 2021, your check may include $300 or $400 extra, under the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (except in those states that are cutting off these benefits early).
If you are receiving benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, your benefits are calculated slightly differently. This program makes benefits available to those who have lost work due to the coronavirus public health emergency but are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits, such as freelancers, gig workers, self-employed workers, and more. To learn about this program and how benefit amounts are determined, see our Pandemic Unemployment Assistance article. If you receive these special benefits, you may also be eligible for the additional $300 per week (or $400 per week, if you lost both regular employment and self-employment income) until September 6, 2021 -- except in those states that are cutting off these benefits early.
If You Earn Money While Collecting Unemployment Benefits
Once you get a new job that pays more than you are receiving in unemployment, you will no longer be eligible to receive benefits. But what if you are only able to pick up odd jobs and small amounts of work here and there? As long as you don’t earn too much from occasional work, you will still be eligible for unemployment benefits.
In most states, as long as you earn less than your weekly benefit amount (or a bit more, in some states), you can still collect unemployment benefits. However, your benefits will be reduced by what you earn. A certain amount of what you earn will be disregarded: You will be able to keep it, and it won’t be subtracted from your benefit amount. Although this amount is generally small, this set-aside is intended to create an incentive for people to work, rather than just collecting unemployment benefits.
The amount that is disregarded when calculating your partial unemployment benefit is either a set dollar amount or a percentage of your usual weekly benefit. Contact the California Employment Development Department to find out how much you can earn without jeopardizing your benefits.
Benefits Are Taxable
Believe it or not, unemployment benefits usually count as taxable income, at least under federal law. You will have to declare the full amount you receive and, if your total income is high enough, pay taxes on your benefits.
However, the American Rescue Plan (which became law on March 11, 2021) waives federal income tax on the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020. (Married couples filing jointly don't have to pay tax on the first $20,400 in unemployment benefits.)
If you wish, you can ask California to withhold 10% of your weekly check for federal income tax. To make this request, file Form W4-V, Voluntary Withholding Request.
Although some states don’t tax unemployment benefits, most do.
You may also be interested in:
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: Unemployment Benefits for Contractors, Gig Workers, and Self-Employed Workers in California
Find out whether you are eligible for coronavirus unemployment benefits, and how much you will get in California.
Learn the four requirements for continuing to receive unemployment benefits in California and how and where to apply for weekly unemployment benefits.