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Layoffs: From Unemployment Benefits to Health Insurance, the Steps to Take ASAP

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A yellow and green toned illustration of a human figure wearing a yellow jacket and light coloredpants, striding up a staircase in the middle of an M.C. Escher-style maze
What benefits can you apply for after you've been laid off? (Anna Vignet/KQED)

This guide is part of the KQED News series What to Do After a Layoff.

Knowing what to do when you get laid off can feel like a daunting prospect — especially if losing your job came as a total shock.

We’ve compiled a list of the initial steps to take after a layoff, to ensure you’re in as secure a place as possible. Jump straight to:

… Or keep reading. As with the instructions for assembling furniture, you might find it helpful to read all this advice start to finish before you embark on these applications — to be prepared for any bumps you might encounter.

Three tips to making applying for benefits after a layoff easier

Your local government may have staff to help you do this

Many cities and counties have their own offices, staff or programs specifically designed for people in your situation right now — which often have physical offices you can visit, or hotlines to call to ask a person your questions. These kinds of local resources can be particularly helpful in navigating the various benefits you could be entitled to, and aiding in the application processes.

Some offices, like the Department of Benefits and Family Support within San Francisco’s Human Services Agency (SFHSA), can take your information in one central application and apply for those benefits on your behalf.

Having the help of a city staffer trained in these applications could save you a lot of time and stress, says Bart Ellison, program manager at SFHSA’s Workforce Development Division — not just because the process is streamlined, but because you’ll be able to ask these folks questions either in person or over the phone. It’s their job to help you — let them do it.

Your city or county may also have a program to help you find new employment, like SFHSA’s free JobsNOW! program, which is open to San Francisco job seekers based on their income level, and matches job hunters with roles.

Find your local social services office in this statewide list.

Don’t feel weird about claiming the benefits you’re owed

When it comes to claiming benefits after a layoff, Ellison wants to remind you that “we all pay for this through our taxes.”

“It’s great that if you don’t need it, it’s there. If you do need it, it’s there, and it should be accessed,” Ellison said. “There’s no shame in any of that.”

COVID Resources and Explainers

A lot of people also just don’t know about the benefits they could be eligible for, says Ellison, or assume they won’t qualify.

He also says that some of the eligible job seekers he and his team work with in San Francisco might fear coming forward to apply if a member of their family is undocumented, because they think it will cause them problems. “We don’t get involved in any of that,” said Ellison. “They should never fear that situation.”

Try to be patient with how long the application process could take

Ellison says he and his team “try not to ask a client for documents that we know we already have in the system” — but concedes that sometimes, this process will feel like providing endless documentation. The benefits you’re applying for can be a mix of federal and state funds, so unfortunately “it’s not just as simple as coming in and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Bart, could you sign me up?,’” said Ellison.

The more you can follow through with any documentation requests, hopefully the faster and smoother your application process will go. “And if you need more time or need help gathering stuff, that is what the eligibility staff are there for,” said Ellison. “They are there to help you find some of these things. So you just need to kind of be your own advocate, and speak up.”

Step 1: Apply for unemployment benefits

If you’ve been laid off, apply for unemployment insurance (UI, also known just as “unemployment”) from the California Employment Development Department (EDD) as soon as you can. Not only could it take at least three weeks to receive any benefits payments from a successful claim, but your claim begins when you first apply for it — not the day you lose your job. So time is of the essence.

Who can claim unemployment benefits?

If you’re reading this and you chose to leave your job, you usually aren’t eligible to claim unemployment. The exception to this is if you quit your job for what EDD calls “good cause,” which can include unsafe working conditions or a doctor’s advice. Whether or not you’re eligible to still claim UI in this situation will be determined by a phone interview with an EDD representative.

When applying for UI, you’ll have to show EDD that you have earned enough wages during the base period of 12 months, are totally or partially unemployed, are “unemployed through no fault of your own,” are physically able to work, are available for work and are ready and willing to accept work immediately.


EDD will also ask you to show that you are “in satisfactory immigration status and authorized to work in the United States” not only now, but when you were earning the wages you’re using to establish your claim. EDD also warns that it will verify your immigration status and work authorization through the Department of Homeland Security.

You can calculate the amount of unemployment benefits you can receive using this tool. Remember that the amount of unemployment you’ll receive is based on your wages over the last 18 months, calculated by EDD from a base period of 12 months within that time — and if you didn’t earn any wages during that period, you won’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

See the EDD’s FAQ on who’s eligible to claim unemployment insurance.

Gather your application information

During your online application for UI, you’ll be asked to submit a lot of information — and it’s easiest to have all that gathered and ready, rather than trying to track it down in the middle of the process.

In addition to your basic identity information, you’ll need:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Your employment authorization information, if you’re not a U.S. citizen
  • A photo ID like a passport or driver’s license (for your ID.me account — more below)

You’ll also need to provide your employment history for the last 18 months, which will include:

  • The names of your previous employers
  • Their addresses
  • Their phone numbers
  • The reason each job ended
  • Your gross (total) wages earned
  • Hours worked per week
  • Hourly rate of pay
A woman sits at her kitchen table and sifts through documents, looking concerned. Next to her is her opened laptop.
During your online application for UI, you’ll be asked to submit a lot of information — and it’s easiest to have all that gathered and ready, rather than trying to track it down in the middle of the process. (MoMo Productions/Getty Images)

Make the online accounts you’ll need to apply

To apply for UI for the first time, you’ll need to create a new Benefit Programs Online account, to enable you to log in and manage your UI claim. (You may already have one of these accounts if you’ve previously applied for UI, disability insurance or paid family leave — in that case, use the same one.)

When you give an email address as part of your Benefit Programs Online application, make sure you check for any emails from EDD. When you get an email with a link to complete your registration, make sure you click that link within 48 hours of receiving it — otherwise, you’ll have to start the registration process all over again.

When you’ve created your Benefit Programs Online account, you’ll then register for UI Online, which is the part of EDD’s online services that allows you to claim and manage your unemployment benefits. Keep reading for how to file your first UI claim.

You’ll also need to have an account with ID.me, the identity verification EDD uses to make sure you’re really you when you’re claiming benefits. You can create your ID.me account before you create your Benefit Programs Online account, or when prompted during the process of creating it. If you’re creating your ID.me account beforehand, just make sure you keep the login details on hand so that you can sign into ID.me when prompted.

You might consider watching the EDD’s short instructional video on YouTube about creating these accounts and filing your first UI claim, so you know what to expect during the process.

File your new UI claim

One big thing: To start using UI Online, you’ll be asked for your “EDD Customer Account Number.” This is a number that’s unique to you, that you can also give instead of your Social Security number on the phone when speaking with an EDD representative. You should receive this number at the preferred email address you gave to EDD — in which case you can start using that EDD Customer Account Number immediately to register for UI Online. It’s also possible to receive this number via mail “10 days after you file your claim,” says EDD.

To file a new claim, log into your Benefit Programs Online account, and under “UI Online” select “File New Claim.” Remember you’ll also be asked to briefly sign in to your ID.me account to verify your identity.

You can’t apply with UI Online 24/7, unfortunately — the site has hours of operation (located on the File and Manage Account tab), which EDD says are currently (all times Pacific Standard Time):

  • Sunday: 5 a.m.–8:30 p.m.
  • Monday: 4 a.m.–10 p.m.
  • Tuesday–Friday: 2 a.m.–10 p.m.
  • Saturday: 2 a.m.–8 p.m.

If you need to pause during the UI Online application process, you can hit “Save as draft” to save your application to return to later — unless it’s after 8 p.m. on the Saturday of the week you’ve started the application. If it’s after 8 p.m. on Saturday, or you’re doing this on a Sunday, you won’t be able to save your application, and you will have to start it all over again if you exit.

If you’re having issues with UI Online, EDD recommends that you call their help line at (833) 978-2511 and select option 1 after the introduction, available 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Monday through Friday. EDD says that Monday morning before 10 a.m. is their busiest call time.

Getting — and keeping — your unemployment benefits

Once your application is complete, be aware of the next steps and further information that EDD will ask of you.

EDD says that it “takes at least three weeks to process a claim for unemployment benefits and issue payment to most eligible workers.” You’ll receive a debit card in the mail, which you can activate and then use to access your payments. If you have an old debit card from a previous UI claim, you can still use that one unless it’s expired (in which case you’ll be sent a new one).

To keep receiving UI after you first apply, you’ll have to certify for your unemployment benefits again every two weeks to continue receiving payments. You can do this online, by phone or through the mail, but EDD says you’ll get your payments faster if you certify online — and you’ll also get email reminders this way.

As part of this certification process every two weeks, you’ll have to attest that you’re actively seeking employment. This requirement was paused during the pandemic, but has since been reinstated. You’ll also need to register for CalJOBS and post your resume to the site to keep receiving your UI benefits.

If you start doing any work again after losing your job, it’s very important that you report those earnings when you certify for your UI benefits — because those wages have to be deducted from your unemployment benefits. Read more on how EDD will adjust your UI if you start earning money again while claiming unemployment benefits.

And if you’re lucky enough to find a new full-time job, EDD is clear: “If you return to work full time, you will no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits.”

See EDD’s FAQ on certifying your UI claim every two weeks.

Step 2: Address your health insurance

If your health insurance was tied to your employment, you need to act swiftly to ensure you’ll still have access to health care after your job ends. The option that’s best for you after your employment ends will depend primarily on how much income your household will now be receiving after you stop working.

Remember that if you’ve applied for unemployment benefits, you’ll need to declare that unemployment compensation as income when applying for health insurance plans. Get advice on how to estimate your income on your application.

First, check with your employer on when your health benefits will actually end.

Sometimes a severance package will offer a holdover of benefits, advises the San Francisco’s Human Services Agency’s Bart Ellison. Ask very specific questions of your human resources team, if you have one, about when the last day of your health care will be.

See if you can go on a family member’s health care.

Losing your health care because of a job loss will likely qualify as a special enrollment period for joining a family member’s plan, if eligible.

If you have a domestic partner, you may be eligible to join their plan. If you’re under 26 years old, you may be able to join a parent’s plan.

A person with medium-toned skin sits at a wooden table writing on a notepad, surrounded by books. They are wearing a gray t-shirt and have tattooed forearms. We can't see their face.
Applying for benefits you’re entitled to can be a time-consuming process. (cottonbro studio/Pexels)


Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid, which offers health care to lower-income folks throughout the state. Eligibility is assessed by your household income, and for many people who qualify, there is no cost of getting health care through Medi-Cal.

Laws passed in the last few years in California mean that undocumented people age 25 or under and also undocumented adults age 50 and over are now eligible to receive Medi-Cal, too.

Unlike Covered California, Medi-Cal has no limited enrollment period — you can sign up at any time of year if eligible, including if you’ve lost your job. If your children previously were getting health care through your employer’s plan, Medi-Cal — or the Children’s Health Insurance Program — may be able to cover them now.

See the state’s FAQ about Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal and Covered California use the same application portal at coveredca.com/apply. Fill out your details, and the site will tell you whether your household income makes you eligible for Medi-Cal or whether you have to choose a private plan from Covered California.

Covered California

Covered California is the state’s marketplace that offers private health insurance plans. Depending on your household income, you may qualify for a free or low-cost health plan through Covered California — or you may be eligible to receive financial help through Covered California that could help cover the costs of your premiums and co-pays. As with Medi-Cal, your household income is going to determine what you’re eligible for.

Leaving your job for any reason and subsequently losing your job-based health coverage qualifies for a special enrollment period for signing up for a marketplace health plan. Usually, you’ll get 60 days from the day you lose your coverage to sign up for a health plan.

See the state’s FAQ about Covered California. Remember, Covered California uses the same application portal as Medi-Cal at coveredca.com/apply. Fill out your details, and the site will tell you whether your household income makes you eligible for Medi-Cal or whether you have to choose a private plan from Covered California.


COBRA stands for the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act — and it’s a way of temporarily keeping health care after you leave a job. Instead of opting to sign up for Medi-Cal or a private health insurance plan through Covered California, you can choose so-called “continuation coverage” of your existing health care plan under COBRA, for a certain period of time.

Health care through COBRA can be applied retroactively, if you’re unsure about electing it straightaway. The catch: COBRA is expensive, because it’s the health plan your employer was previously paying part or all of — and now, you’re paying all the costs yourself.

Getting back onto health insurance taking a while? Know where your nearest community health center is.

If you aren’t eligible for coverage through Medi-Cal, but signing up for another health plan is proving challenging right now, you can get low-cost health care at a nearby community health center. Make sure you know where your nearest one is, in case you need access to health care quickly. You can use this map to find the closest community health center near you.

More resources on finding health care after losing your job:

Step 3: Don’t forget about other benefits you could be entitled to

The quickest way to see what benefits you might be eligible for now is to do one application through the state’s BenefitsCal portal. This site will review your information and tell you what you may qualify for, including Medi-Cal.

The state says this application will take you between 30 minutes and an hour, and if you make an account you can save your progress and return to the application later, rather than having to start again. One catch: Not all counties in California are using this portal yet. Select your county from the drop-down menu to see whether you have to use another site — mybenefitscalwin.org — instead.

The other benefits you could be entitled to may include:

CalFresh (SNAP)

CalFresh is the state’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the food benefits program also known as “food stamps.”

According to the state’s data from March 2023, over 3 million households use these funds to ensure they have access to food. You can apply through benefitscal.com, which will also show you all other benefits you’re entitled to, or go direct through getcalfresh.org.

CalWORKs (California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids)

If you have at least one child in your home, CalWORKs is a public assistance program that offers cash aid and services to eligible families. See if your family is eligible to receive CalWORKs at benefitscal.com.

WIC (Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program)

WIC provides food assistance to lower-income families who have young children or are expecting a new child. Like CalFresh, it’s federally funded, and you can receive WIC benefits on top of your CalFresh benefits.

The program is income-based, and is available to pregnant people, plus new parents and grandparents of young children. See whether you’re eligible for WIC and apply online.

Make sure to read the rest of our KQED guides about other steps you can take after a layoff to better support yourself and those who depend on you:

Tell us: What else do you need information about?

At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area. We’ve published clear, practical explainers and guides about COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.

This story was originally published on May 19, 2023


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