Surviving the pandemic: How to apply for unemployment benefits in California
California's Employment Development Department has resources for those facing job loss due to COVID-19.

The number of jobless Californians is on pace to reach historic highs, as reduced wages, shuttered businesses and self-quarantine precautions continue to dominate life during the coronavirus crisis.

But even during a pandemic, bills and expenses don’t stop when paychecks do – highlighted by a recent failed attempt by some San Jose lawmakers to suspend rent for people affected by the virus for 90 days. Unemployment benefits are one resource to cushion financial strain.

Nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment the last two weeks of March. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state’s Employment Development Department, which handles these claims, has received nearly 2 million claims since March 12.

For the week ending March 28 alone, 878,727 claims were filed, according to the EDD – a 370 percent increase from the week prior. For comparison, 357,921 residents statewide were certified for unemployment insurance in January. Of those, 10,180 were in Santa Clara County, totaling around $15.5 million in payments.

Unemployment insurance benefits are available to those who have experienced job loss and reduced hours, as well as those who are quarantined or caring for others who are sick. The EDD urges residents to file within the first week of lost work, especially to get within the surging queues as soon as possible.

So, how can you file for unemployment?

Step 1: The first step is figuring out for which benefits you qualify. Whether requesting Unemployment Insurance, Paid Family Leave or Disability Insurance, the fastest method is online. Claims can be made over the phone weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon by calling 1 (800) 300-5616, or mailing an application to the EDD P.O. Box, 12906 Oakland, CA 94604.

Step 2: As you begin the application, ensure you have contact information for previous employers, gross earnings paperwork and documentation of citizenship. Depending on what claim you file, other documents such as medical files may also be required to prove eligibility.

Step 3: Finally, set reminders to check in with EDD every two weeks. Applicants must continue to certify eligibility, report any work performed and track wages earned (even if not yet paid) in order to keep collecting benefits. Once dollars are distributed, the EDD Debit Card – which can be transferred to direct deposits – is the fastest option, compared to mailing physical checks.

On average, Californians receive anywhere from $40 to $450 per week in unemployment benefits, and individuals can get an estimate online. California offers up to 26 weeks of coverage.

But after Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the emergency legislation extended that timeline another 13 weeks, for a maximum 39 weeks of payments. Additionally, the $2.2 trillion stimulus package will provide weekly $600 payments on top of the rates provided by state unemployment checks, potentially adding up to weekly checks of $1,050 for some residents. This federal program will be accessible through July 31.

Residents don’t need to do anything to receive the additional $600 per week.

Newsom waived the one-week waiting period that typically preceded benefits, but funds will still take at least three weeks to flow into pocketbooks.

Before the coronavirus crisis, recipients needed to be actively search for a new job and have the ability to start immediately. Those two requirements now have more flexibility to consider local jurisdictions’ orders for residents to stay home and nonessential businesses to close.

Additionally, Congress created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which will provide coverage for self-employed workers who aren’t usually provided these benefits. This includes freelancers, workers seeking part-time positions and independent contractors – such as Lyft and DoorDash drivers. Up to 39 weeks of benefits will be available until December 31.

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: In a new series focused on bringing you “news you can use” during the crisis, we provide tips and explanatory stories to help you survive the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you want to know? Let us know: [email protected]

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