Claiming Unemployment in California: Your Options Now That Pandemic Federal Benefits Have Ended

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For renters and property owners who've applied for rent relief, there's still several important things to know about eviction protections. (Liza Summer/Pexels)

Around Labor Day, up to 2.2 million Californians lost federal benefits established to help get them through the pandemic.

But plenty of people still haven’t found work. Some also have circumstances that are keeping them out of the job market, like not wanting to send their unvaccinated kids back to school, or worrying about contracting COVID in the workplace.

If you're reading this because your pandemic federal benefits expired earlier this month, we should say up-front: there are not a huge amount of options available to you right now.

But if you have worked at some point during the pandemic, there are a few things you can do to maximize the benefits you can claim. Not least because some Californians are still eligible for regular unemployment and should continue to certify for benefits, according to the Employment Development Department (EDD).

And if you haven’t, there are still a number of state programs you may be entitled to, to help bridge certain gaps right now.

Keep reading for our guide to help you figure the paths open to you.

Which of my unemployment benefits have actually expired?

Back on Sept. 4, the following federal unemployment benefits established by the CARES Act expired:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): The federal program that supported business owners, independent contractors and self-employed workers. (If you only got a 1099 tax form, this was likely the program you were on.)
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): The federal program for people who were on regular unemployment but exhausted those funds.
  • Pandemic Additional Compensation (PAC) (also known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC): The program that paid $300 in federal unemployment compensation on top of a claimant's current weekly benefit amount for weeks of unemployment between December 27, 2020, and September 4, 2021.
  • Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC): The program that paid an additional $100 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits to claimants who received regular unemployment or extension benefits and earned self-employment income in the year before their claim.

Also available was Federal-State Extended Duration (FED-ED), the federal program for people who had exhausted both regular unemployment insurance and PEUC funds. Some people had remaining weeks of FED-ED eligibility, but these payments also expired Sept. 11.

Why these federal benefits were created, and who's being left out, according to advocates

These now-expired pandemic unemployment benefits were created as temporary emergency payments and extensions, and some of them were intended to bridge gaps for people who don’t qualify for regular unemployment, like gig workers and the self-employed.

In the lead-up to their expiration, some advocates pointed out that the absence of preexisting unemployment support nets for these workers highlights glaring holes in the system that still need filling.

"'Why is it OK for those folks to be excluded from the program when it's not a pandemic?' is a question we need to ask ourselves," said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

"And if we can figure out how to make it work during a pandemic to cover them, we need to be covering them all the time."

I'm on regular unemployment. Where do I stand?

According to an EDD release from early September, the agency estimates around 500,000 Californians are still on regular state unemployment insurance — just without the $300 federal PAC supplement they used to get.

EDD uses what they call a 'base period' to calculate your benefits and whether you are eligible for benefits in general. See the earning requirements for establishing a valid claim.

An important note is that people who filed claims at the beginning of the pandemic but have not been back to work at all are not going to be eligible to file a new regular unemployment claim, says Daniela Urban, executive director of The Center for Workers’ Rights in Sacramento.

It's "[b]ecause they haven't had any new earnings, regardless of how far back they can go in their base period," she explained.

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

If I'm eligible for a new claim, what do I need to know?

Be strategic with your timing 

If you have earned enough since your last claim to qualify for a new one, Urban recommends you think strategically about when you file — to maximize the amount and length of your new round of benefits.

A big reason why you should do this? Urban says EDD will never include the quarter of earnings in which you file your claim when it calculates your claim amount.

Since many people may have gotten work in the summertime before the delta variant really took hold, there’s a good chance you may have earnings in the third quarter of 2021, which runs between July 1 and Sept. 30. So, if you file in October, at the start of the fourth quarter — instead of September — EDD will consider those "Q3 earnings" when it calculates your benefits.

Consider whether your earnings will count

"The amount that you receive in unemployment is based on both your highest quarter of earnings as well as all of your earnings over the base period. So because many claimants didn't work for much of 2020, they might have a [higher] quarter of earnings recently like the most recent quarter or the quarter immediately preceding that,” Urban said.

People who’ve gotten back to work recently but then been laid off again should factor that into when they file, too, says Urban. That’s because, if you have just lost a new job, then your earnings from that quarter don't count.

"So whenever we're at the end of a quarter, especially like we are right now, if you've recently lost work and most of your new job was just in that one quarter, they're only going to use the earnings from the quarter before that and maybe even two quarters before that, depending on what your other earnings were, in order to calculate your base period earnings," said Urban.

Remember there are no longer extensions

Waiting to file has other benefits on top of making it more likely that folks’ higher earnings will be considered, "because now that there aren't extensions, the maximum you'll be able to get is the 26 weeks within a 52-week period," stressed Urban.

"So by delaying the start of that, you push back the time period where you start getting benefits. But that extends the time period for which you're able to collect those benefits if you still remain unemployed," she said.

In short: When you're deciding to file, weigh how you can balance including the periods where you earned the most — and consider that the longer you wait to file, the more months (and, hopefully, closer to a fuller economic recovery) your benefits will run.


Where to find help if you've lost your pandemic unemployment benefits

EDD has shared the following services for folks who need additional support during this transition.

Please note: Some unemployed folks have reported struggles securing public benefits if they had identity theft issues related to unemployment. Being unemployed can also interfere with the ability to file tax returns, which will impact stimulus payment access.


California's food stamps (SNAP) program offers more than $200 a month in food support. Sign up for CalFresh online or call (877) 847-3663.

Housing Is Key

Information and support around rent and utilities from the state. Sign up through Housing Is Key online or call (833) 430-2122.

Covered California or Medi-Cal

EDD notes that "Californians who received unemployment insurance in 2021 may be eligible for Covered California’s best coverage for $1 per month. Individuals already enrolled in Medi-Cal or a Covered California health plan should report any loss of unemployment benefits to Covered California because this will lower health coverage costs." See more about Covered California or Medi-Cal online or call (800) 300-1506.


BenefitsCal offers a way to apply for CalFresh, CalWORKs, Medi-Cal, CMSP (County Medical Services Program), Disaster CalFresh or GA/GR (General Assistance or General Relief). This site replaces C4Yourself, YourBenefitsNow and MyBenefits CalWIN. Apply through BenefitsCal online.

Golden State Stimulus

Eligible tax filers can apply for the Golden State Stimulus. Read more from KQED about the Golden State Stimulus.