Updated: 2021-03-11 by
In March of 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. Congress has twice passed stimulus bills that extend or renew some of these programs, most recently in March of 2021. Read on to learn how the CARES Act affects those who are out of work in California.
Some states are cutting off CARES Act benefits early! So far, sixteen states have decided to opt out of the CARES Act pandemic unemployment benefit programs in June or July of 2021, rather than allowing them to continue until September 6, 2021. Up to two million workers in these states will lose their unemployment benefits. Learn which states are cutting off benefits early -- and what it means to those who are collecting unemployment.
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. However, Congress has extended the program twice, and it will now last until September 6, 2021 (except in those states that are cutting off these benefits early).
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, even if you wouldn't otherwise qualify under your state's usual rules:
- 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'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.
California Claimants Will Receive More Money
Each state has its own formula for determining how much applicants will receive as a weekly unemployment benefit, subject to a maximum amount.
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.In California, the weekly benefit maximum prior to the CARES Act is $450 per week. The weekly benefit under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is calculated slightly differently, as explained here.
The CARES Act originally entitled applicants to an additional $600 per week, called Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, on top of their weekly state benefit. After this program expired at the end of July 2020, FEMA made some extra money available through the "lost wages assistance" program to try to bridge the gap. In December of 2020, Congress finally renewed the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program at a lower rate: Claimants may now receive an extra $300 per week (or $400 per week, for some applicants who lost wages both from regular employment and from self-employment). The program has recently been extended, and is now set to expire on September 6, 2021 (except in those states that are cutting off these benefits early).
The CARES Act also encourages states to waive the one-week waiting period that would otherwise prohibit claimants from receiving benefits for the first week that they are unemployed.
California Claimants Will Receive Benefits for a Longer Period of Time
In California, you can receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks under state law.The CARES Act initially provided an additional 13 weeks of benefits to claimants after their California benefits run out. These additional benefits are called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. Congress has twice extended this program, so that claimants are now entitled to up to 53 extra weeks of benefits. Workers who would not otherwise be eligible for benefits under state law but are receiving benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program are now eligible for up to 79 total weeks of benefits.
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is set to expire on September 6, 2021 (except in those states that are cutting off these benefits early).
What to Do Next
The CARES Act has a lot of moving parts, but this much is clear: If you are out of work (or underemployed) for any reason relating to COVID-19, you should file an application for benefits with the California Employment Development Department.
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