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What should you do if your pandemic unemployment benefits have stopped? (Cottonbro/Pexels)

Claiming Unemployment in California? What to Know About EDD and Pandemic Federal Benefits

Claiming Unemployment in California? What to Know About EDD and Pandemic Federal Benefits

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We're over a year into a deadly pandemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of Californians their jobs, and caused claims for unemployment benefits to soar into the millions.

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law in March 2021 to get more direct relief to people hit hardest by the pandemic and to help the economy. In addition to direct stimulus payments, the bill also extends federal unemployment support.

If you're claiming unemployment insurance through the Employment Development Department (EDD), the passing of this one-year milestone might mean you need to take action on your claim. But how do these pandemic federal benefits affect your California unemployment claims? And how can you make sure you're getting the support you're entitled to?

The most recent change: EDD has announced that starting June 5, some applicants who have passed the one-year mark on their claim who previously needed to refile now may no longer have to. Read more about this change.

Please note that the EDD website has regularly been prone to glitches for people trying to certify their claims for several months now. In addition, wait times for EDD’s identity verification platform can still be considerable. What's more, the backlog of unemployment claims waiting on action from EDD continues to grow. These issues can mean that even if you do everything right, it still might be hard work to get your benefits.

You'll find phone numbers to speak to EDD representatives here on their site. But if you’re really struggling, you may find that contacting your legislator or a workers' advocate group like the Center for Workers' Rights could be a better bet than trying to call EDD customer service and waiting on the phone. We also have a list of multilingual resources for unemployment claimants.

What Unemployment Benefits Are You Entitled to?

Unemployment Insurance, or “Regular UI”: The state program that supports Californians with W-2 income who are fully or partially unemployed because of no fault of their own (including COVID-19, school closures or an expired unemployment claim).

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA: The federal program that supports business owners, independent contractors and self-employed workers. (If you only got a 1099 tax form, this is likely the program you’re on).

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC: The federal program for people who were on regular unemployment but exhausted those funds. You can be put on PEUC more than once — but to qualify for a PEUC extension, your regular UI claim must have started on July 8, 2018 or after. Depending on when you filed your unemployment claim and if it has expired, you may need to reapply for unemployment.

Federal-State Extended Duration, or FED-ED: The federal program for people who’ve exhausted both regular UI and PEUC funds.

President Biden's American Rescue Plan does the following:

  • Continues the federal increase for all unemployment benefits, which adds $300 to each week of benefits through Sept. 4, 2021.
  • Extends Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) up to 29 weeks, through Sept. 4, 2021.
  • Continues the federally funded FED-ED through Sept. 11, 2021, providing up to 20 weeks of benefits.

Will I Get Any Federal Benefits Automatically?

You might. For all applicants, for weeks of unemployment between Dec. 27, 2020 and Sept. 4, 2021, EDD will add $300 of federal Pandemic Additional Compensation (PAC) to benefit weeks, on top of the other benefits you certify for.

This money should come through automatically; applicants shouldn’t need to make any adjustments on their claims to get it.

How Do I Know If I Need to Reapply For Benefits?

Your benefits year ends 12 months after you first filed your claim. Refiling usually means EDD can assess whether you are eligible for a new UI claim and, if you aren’t, decide which program makes most sense for you.

But starting June 5, some applicants who have passed the one-year mark on their claim who previously needed to refile now may no longer have to:

If you haven’t made enough money in the last 18 months to warrant filing a new claim, EDD now says it will process benefits, add a federal extension to an expired claim or continue an existing extension. This system will apply to regular UI, federal extensions and PUA applications.

EDD says this update to the reapplication process is in the name of "streamlining." But Daniela Urban, executive director of the Center for Workers’ Rights, said she and other advocates are perplexed by this latest change, especially given that EDD had so recently released a video tutorial on how to reapply for unemployment.

Urban also warned unemployed Californians to be prepared for more updates from EDD in the wake of this transition.

How Do I Know If I'm Eligible for a New Claim?

According to Urban, in order to qualify for a new claim you have to have earned at least $1,300 in your base period and made at least $1,250 since your last unemployment application. This figure, says Urban, represents “what’s considered 'reattaching to the workforce.' ”

If you have earned enough in the last 18 months to warrant a new claim, you do need to refile, even if you are on an extension. Once you do, EDD says it will establish a new regular UI claim or a federal extension for you. EDD says you will be notified by email, text and on UI Online if you need to reapply.

To figure out if you’ve made enough money that you’ll be required to reapply, log into UI Online and try to file a new claim. According to EDD, the new application process will only go forward if you need to refile.

If you haven’t worked at all throughout the pandemic, EDD should automatically file a PEUC extension on your prior UI claim, and you should be notified the agency has done this.

Though EDD suspended its work search requirement in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, from July 2021 most unemployed Californians will need to show they are actively looking for work to stay eligible for benefits.

This means applicants will need to answer "Yes" on the bi-weekly certification question asking if they are looking for work. As one Twitter user succinctly put it, “Just put ‘yes’ for number three and that’s it.”

EDD spokesperson Loree Levy confirmed that applicants should start looking for work no later than July 11, and be prepared to declare that they are looking for work on their certification form starting July 18.

What qualifies as “searching for work” will vary for those on regular unemployment or extensions versus those on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA.) That's because PUA applicants are often self-employed and contract workers.

EDD says it will be sending notices to inform applicants what this reinstatement means for them, but a brief rundown can also be found on the agency's website.

I’m Not on Regular UI. What Federal Support Does My Program Qualify Me for, and What Do I Need to Do to Get It?

1. Existing and Exhausted PUA Claims

  • If you still had a balance remaining on your PUA claim on March 14, EDD says you should continue to get benefits without delays. EDD says around 95% of PUA recipients should be able to keep certifying without a break.
  • On a media call on March 26, EDD said everyone on existing PUA claims should have been able to start certifying for these benefits on Sunday, March 28.
  • For the around 5% of PUA recipients who exhausted all PUA benefits, EDD says you should be getting texts, UI Online notifications or mailed notices by April 10, 2021 — if not sooner — about when to certify for other benefits.

2. Existing and Exhausted PEUC claims

  • Still had a balance remaining on your PEUC claim on March 14? EDD says you should also continue to get benefits without delays. Around half of people with existing PEUC claims should be able to keep certifying without a break, says EDD.
  • For the other half of applicants who’ve exhausted all PEUC extensions, you could be eligible for another 20 weeks of benefits under FED-ED Extension. If you are, EDD will automatically file a FED-ED extension on your claim. EDD says it will phase in these benefits between April 10 and April 30, and will notify you in your UI online account when it does. Not everyone is eligible, though, so take a look at EDD's Unemployment Benefit Programs flowchart to work out if you are.

3. Regular UI and Existing FED-ED claims

  • If you have not reached the end of your benefits year, you should continue to be able to continue to certify, in addition to receiving the $300 federal PAC bump without interruption.

4. New PUA Claims

  • Need to file a new PUA claim? You should be able to do so, but you will currently only be paid at the minimum level of $167 per week, plus the extra $300 federal payment.
  • By April 10, applicants may become eligible for a higher weekly benefit amount based on income information reported on their application, and any shift in benefit amount will be applied retroactively.

How Many Weeks Will These New Benefits Carry Me Over for?

EDD has a breakdown of how long these federal benefits will extend your support for, and how many weeks of benefits you can ultimately receive. See the breakdown of benefit lengths.


Reopening a Claim vs. Filing a New One

According to Daniela Urban, applicants should be on the lookout on their own for the ability to file a new claim, even if their old claim is allowing them to recertify. Some peoples’ accounts just say pending for a long time, when really, it’s time for them to refile. Even though that option may have already popped up on their account, they may be overlooking it.

The option to “Reopen Claim” online is supposed to appear if it’s been more than 30 days since you last certified for benefits. If your benefit year hasn’t expired, EDD will put your account into a semi-dormant mode, instead of closing out your account. (Think of it like your computer going into sleep mode, instead of shutting down.)

That said, there have been glitches in the past and people have gotten this notification when they shouldn’t have. So if you get this "Reopen Claim" notice, but you have been certifying regularly, don’t click on that option until you’ve gotten more information about why you’re getting this notice.

If you do actually need to reopen your claim, EDD has a step-by-step video guide: