How to File for Unemployment in California During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Roberto Lopes works at Nick's Lighthouse in Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Like many service industry workers, he worries about the decline in revenue at the restaurant and what that means for his job.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated on April 2 at 1:15 p.m.

Some Californians who are missing work because of the novel coronavirus can access benefits, including unemployment.

Benefits are not only for people who have been laid off, they also apply to caregivers, those who are quarantined and workers whose hours have been reduced. Additionally, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that extends unemployment insurance to independent contractors, self-employed and gig economy workers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 12 stating that the California Employment Development Department (EDD) would waive the one-week waiting period for people unemployed or disabled due to the coronavirus.

"We are seeing certainly an unprecedented demand for these benefits, more of a sudden slam of demand, as you can well imagine," said Loree Levy, spokesperson for the EDD. "So for that reason, we have got all hands on deck here at the EDD, trying to do everything we can to streamline the processing of these claims."

EDD staff is working overtime, planning to hire more employees and "trying a number of creative solutions," to help process the influx of claims, according to Levy.

How to File for Unemployment in California

Californians who may be missing work because of the novel coronavirus can now apply for benefits through the state's EDD. Specific policies instituted as a result of the coronavirus can be seen here (also available in Spanish). The department is providing workers and caregivers various options to collect payment.

Sick or quarantined Californians who are unable to work as a result of the virus can file a disability insurance claim online.

If you're unable to work because you're taking care of a sick or quarantined relative with COVID-19, you can file a paid family leave claim, according to EDD.

Those who have had reduced hours or have lost their job due to their employer shutting down operations, can file an unemployment insurance claim.

It typically takes three weeks for EDD to process a claim and issue a payment, but Levy said this timeframe is changing on a daily basis. EDD plans to keep Californians informed as the situation evolves.

EDD encourages Californians to check the COVID-19 resources page for developments.

General Eligibility Requirements for California

When filing for unemployment, you must have earned a certain threshold of wages to establish a claim, and be:

  • Totally or partially unemployed
  • Unemployed through no fault of your own
  • Physically able to work
  • Available for work
  • Ready and willing to accept work immediately
  • Actively looking for work

In addition, according to EDD, you must continually meet eligibility requirements — meaning on a weekly basis you must continually prove the points above.

The federal government is allowing new options for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits related to COVID-19. For example, federal law now allows states to pay benefits where:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work.
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over.
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
  • In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.

Federal Assistance

Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill into law on March 27, which includes $260 billion to ramp up the unemployment insurance program. The package raises the weekly benefit by $600 and expands coverage to four months. This includes previously ineligible groups, such as those who are self-employed, freelancers or work in the gig economy.

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The stimulus package also will give American citizens a payment of $1,200 — or less, depending on income — and potentially $500 for every child in a family. But these payments could take months to hit bank accounts, some experts say.

On March 18, Trump also signed an emergency funding bill that will extend unemployment benefits and give self-employed workers a tax credit equal to qualified sick leave. The bill will also:

  • Provide up to three months of paid family and medical leave.
  • Extend unemployment insurance to furloughed workers. Beef up food assistance for needy families, including seniors, students and food banks.
  • Increase Medicaid funding for local, state, tribal and territorial governments and health systems, to help cover response to the emergency.

Have you recently filed for unemployment insurance? Let us know how it went: LJamali@kqed.org

Additional Sources of Financial Support

Emergency Funds for Freelancers, Creatives Losing Income During Coronavirus is a list of resources compiled by KQED Arts focusing on freelancers and creatives.

Corporations such as Facebook have funding available for small businesses and UberEats has waived deliver fees for independent restaurants.

Support in San Francisco

The city of San Francisco has launched a Give2SF fund with a $1.5 million contribution from Salesforce to “help protect the health of San Francisco and support the most vulnerable, including individuals, families, and local businesses." Additional resources for workers in San Francisco can be found here. There is also a small business resiliency fund for the city of San Francisco.

Santa Clara County Assistance

The Santa Clara County homelessness prevention system has temporary financial assistance available to help low-income residents of Santa Clara County who have lost income and are unable to pay rent as a result of COVID-related impacts.

SNAP Reimbursement

Expensify, an app normally used for businesses and companies to track expenses for reimbursements, has funds available for those on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Expensify.org is temporarily redirecting its charitable funds to additional funding for food. Follow instructions here and note that the reimbursement is limited to $50 per family.

Open Health Insurance Enrollment

If you've lost a job and no longer have health insurance, Covered California has opened a special enrollment period which means you can still get health insurance.

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