California: Unemployment Compensation Update

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California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) Unemployment Insurance program has implemented new procedures and temporary policy changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and federal legislation implementing the CARES Act. The state also has provided additional information on several state-based programs available to California workers who are impacted by COVID-19.

California Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Traditional Unemployment Benefits

The typical weekly benefit amount for traditional unemployment benefits in California is calculated based on recent employment earnings for a maximum of $450 per week. A benefit calculator is available on the EDD website.

Applicants receiving traditional unemployment benefits also will receive an additional $600 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) under the CARES Act. California began issuing PUC payments during the week of April 5, 2020. PUC payments are available for weeks claimants receive benefits for the week beginning March 29, 2020 and ending July 31, 2020. Applicants receiving traditional unemployment benefits will automatically receive the additional PUC payments for each eligible week for which they receive unemployment benefits.

CARES Act Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Under the federal CARES Act, expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits also are available. EDD will begin accepting PUA claims on Tuesday, April 28. Applicants apply for these benefits through UI Online, the same system used to apply for regular unemployment insurance benefits. More information is available here.

PUA benefits extend to include many individuals who are not covered by traditional unemployment insurance in California, do not qualify for State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave, and who are prevented from working due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes self-employed individuals and independent contractors. Individuals who have expired claims or have exhausted their traditional unemployment benefits may also receive PUA benefits. PUA is available to pay up to an additional 13 weeks beyond the 26 weeks that are typically available under traditional unemployment insurance (39 weeks total).

The amount of PUA benefits are based on previous reported income, with a minimum benefit of $167 per week to a maximum benefit of $450 per week. PUA benefits are available from February 2, 2020 and run from the date of the employment loss due to COVID-19 reasons. Applicants eligible to receive benefits will also receive an additional $600 per week in PUC benefits under the CARES Act for the period beginning March 29, 2020 and ending July 31, 2020. Benefits will be paid retroactively.

Work Sharing Program

The UI Work Sharing Program provides employers with an alternative to laying off employees by allowing employees to keep working with fewer hours and collect part of their regular unemployment benefits. To qualify, employers must obtain approval for a shared work plan. Work sharing cannot be used as a transition to a layoff. To qualify, employers must have reduced hours and wages between 10-60 percent for their regular workforce or a unit of their workforce by at least 10 percent and a minimum of two employees. Employers must continue to pay health and retirement benefits as before.

Other Changes

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, EDD is waiving the seven-day waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits for people who are out of work due to COVID-19 closures or quarantines.
  • Businesses directly affected by COVID-19 can request up to a 60-day extension to file state payroll reports and deposit state payroll taxes without penalty or interest. Businesses should submit a written request for extension, noting the impact of COVID-19, within 60 days from the original delinquent date of the payment or return. More information is available in the State of Emergency or Disaster Fact Sheet.

Additional Worker Support Services

California also has put into place two workforce support programs to help workers impacted by COVID-19.

The Statewide Worker Supportive Services program provides $10 million to help workers statewide pay for childcare, housing and utility assistance, and transportation. Supportive services are available in two tiers:

  • Individuals receiving at least 50 percent of their previous wages either from their employer directly or Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefit payments may receive supportive services totaling $400.
  • Individuals who are not receiving at least 50 percent of their wages from their employer directly or through UI benefit payments may receive supportive services totaling $800.

The Los Angeles Region Worker Supportive Services and Rapid Response Services for Businesses program provides $7.8 million to help workers and businesses in industries most impacted by COVID-19 including entertainment, hospitality, travel, and leisure. Local boards will distribute funds to community-based organizations and non-profits who will assist workers with job matching, applying for unemployment benefits, job training for in-demand jobs during COVID-19, and supportive services to help pay for child care, food, utility assistance, rent, clothes, and transportation/fuel costs.

Other Employment Benefits Available to Californians As a Result of COVID-19

In addition to unemployment insurance and other worker supportive services, California also provides additional state-based benefits to employees who are impacted by COVID-19 in the form of State Disability Insurance, State Paid Family Leave, and Workers’ Compensation. The Labor & Workforce Development Agency (LWD) provides regular updates and information, including a chart comparing programs, available here.

State Disability Insurance

California’s Disability Insurance (DI) program provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. DI also provides benefits to employees who are unable to work due to medical quarantine or illness related to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional). Benefits are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1300 a week for up to 52 weeks. Workers can apply for UI and DI at same time but may only collect one at a time. The DI Calculator estimates potential benefit amounts.

State Paid Family Leave (PFL)

California’s State Disability Insurance program also provides short-term paid family leave wage replacement benefits to eligible workers for up to six weeks. This program is available to workers who are unable to work because they are caring for a seriously ill or quarantined family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 per week. The Paid Family Leave Calculator estimates potential benefit amounts.

Workers’ Compensation

Employees who are unable to do their usual jobs because they were exposed to and contracted COVID-19 during the regular course of their work also may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Benefits include temporary disability benefits generally in the amount of two-thirds of the employee’s gross wages. More information is available here.

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