A Step-By-Step Guide To Getting The Most Money Possible From Your Unemployment Benefits In California

U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to unilaterally suspend payroll taxes and extend expired coronavirus unemployment benefits after negotiations with congressional Democrats on a broad pandemic aid package collapsed on Friday.

Trump told a news conference at his golf club in New Jersey that he will sign an executive order implementing these measures, suspending student loan repayments and rental housing evictions in the coming days if no deal is reached.

He said the payroll tax suspension — a move he has long called for but shunned by both parties in Congress — would be retroactive to July 1 and extend through the end of 2020, with a possible extension into next year if he is re-elected.

Trump said the order could be signed by the end of the week, without specifying whether he meant this week or next week. He added that he expected it to be challenged in court.

A last-ditch effort by Democrats to revive Capitol Hill talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money collapsed in disappointment Friday, making it increasingly likely that Washington gridlock will mean more hardship for millions of people who are losing enhanced jobless benefits and further damage for an economy pummeled by the still-raging coronavirus.

President Trump said Friday night he was likely to issue limited executive orders related to COVID, perhaps in the next day or so, if he can’t reach a broad agreement with Congress.

The day’s negotiations at the Capitol added up to only “a disappointing meeting,” declared top Senate Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York, saying the White House had rejected an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to curb Democratic demands by about $1 trillion. He urged the White House to “negotiate with Democrats and meet us in the middle. Don’t say it’s your way or no way.”

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said, “Unfortunately we did not make any progress today.” Republicans said Pelosi was relying on budget maneuvers to curb costs and contended she had overplayed her hand.

Often an impasse in Washington is of little consequence for the public — not so this time. It means longer and perhaps permanent expiration of a $600-per-week bonus pandemic jobless benefit that’s kept millions of people from falling into poverty. It denies more than $100 billion to help schools reopen this fall. It blocks additional funding for virus testing as cases are surging this summer. And it denies billions of dollars to state and local governments considering furloughs as their revenue craters.

Ahead is uncertainty. The House and Senate have left Washington, with members sent home on instructions to be ready to return for a vote on an agreement. With no deal in sight, their absence raises the possibility of a prolonged stalemate stretching well into August and even September.

Speaking from his New Jersey golf club Friday evening, Trump said, “If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need.”

Trump said he may issue executive orders on home evictions, student loan debt, and allowing states to repurpose COVID relief funding into their unemployment insurance programs. He also said he’ll likely issue an executive order to defer collection of Social Security payroll taxes, an idea that has less support among his Republican allies.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, “This is not a perfect answer — we’ll be the first ones to say that — but it is all that we can do, and all the president can do within the confines of his executive power.”

Friday’s Capitol Hill session followed a combative meeting on Thursday evening that cast real doubt on the ability of the Trump administration and Democrats to come together on a fifth COVID-19 response bill.

Pelosi summoned Mnuchin and Meadows in hopes of breathing life into the negotiations, which have been characterized by frustration and intransigence on both sides — particularly on top issues such as extending the bonus pandemic jobless benefit that expired last week.

Pelosi declared the talks all but dead until Meadows and Mnuchin give ground.

“I’ve told them, ‘Come back when you are ready to give us a higher number,’” she said.

The breakdown in the negotiations is distressing for schools, which have been counting on billions of dollars from Washington to help with the costs of reopening. But other priorities are also languishing, including a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people, a cash infusion for the struggling Postal Service, and money to help states hold elections in November.

In a news conference Friday, Pelosi said she had offered a major concession to Republicans.

“We’ll go down $1 trillion, you go up to $1 trillion,” Pelosi said. The figures are approximate, but a Pelosi spokesman said the speaker is in general terms seeking a “top line” of perhaps $2.4 trillion, compared with $3.45 trillion for the House-passed HEROES Act. Republicans say their starting offer was about $1 trillion, but they have offered some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to states, among others, that have brought the White House to offer higher.

Mnuchin said that the renewal of a $600-per-week pandemic jobless boost and huge demands by Democrats for aid to state and local governments are the key areas where they are stuck.

“There’s a lot of areas of compromise,” he said after Friday’s meeting. “I think if we can reach an agreement on state and local and unemployment, we will reach an overall deal. And if we can’t, we can’t.”

Democrats have offered to reduce the almost $1-trillion demand for state and local governments considerably, but some of Pelosi’s proposed cost savings would accrue chiefly because she would shorten the time frame for benefits like food stamps.

Pelosi and Schumer continue to insist on a huge aid package to address a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, double-digit joblessness, and the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.

On Friday, the Democratic leaders pointed to the new July jobs report to try to bolster their proposals. The report showed that the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs last month, a much slower increase than in May and June.

“It’s clear the economy is losing steam,” Schumer said. “That means we need big, bold investments in America to help average folks.”

Senate Republicans have been split, with roughly half of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rank and file opposed to another rescue bill. Four prior coronavirus response bills totaling almost $3 trillion have won approval on bipartisan votes despite intense wrangling, but conservatives have recoiled at the prospect of another Pelosi-brokered agreement with a whopping deficit-financed cost.

McConnell has kept his distance from the negotiations while coordinating with Mnuchin and Meadows.

In addition to restoring the lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, Pelosi and Schumer have staked out a firm position to extend generous child-care assistance and have reiterated their insistence on additional funding for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

“This virus is like a freight train coming so fast and they are responding like a convoy going as slow as the slowest ship,” Pelosi said Friday. “It just doesn’t work.”

Millions of Californians have lost work and filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. It's been scary. The worst-unemployment-since-the-Great-Depression kind of scary.

And, like nearly everything else Angelenos are dealing with, the rules for accessing unemployment benefits keep changing.

New programs are being created (and cut). There are massive payment delays. There's a learning curve. And limited-to-no lives contact from representatives. And phones that go unanswered. And the waiting, and the waiting, and the waiting, and the waiting.

The process of acquiring and maintaining unemployment benefits can be its own special hell. The system can be absurdly difficult to navigate. And if something goes wrong, or a step gets overlooked, it's nearly impossible to speak to an actual human person and get it resolved quickly.

So we put together this guide to help people find the steps a little easier, and hopefully minimize some delays in getting paid.

EDD also has an FAQ (or two, or three). And there are some additional answers there. But you can also ask us your questions.

We've answered thousands from readers since the world turned upside down, and an outsized number has been about unemployment.

Nothing about this process is fast or easy, but whether you're filing for the first time, or troubleshooting an existing claim, let us know what you still need to be answered.

- HOW (AND HOW MUCH) -

Let's start with the endgame.

At the moment, the best-case scenario is $450 per week.

But it might be $40.

Possibly you'll get something in between.

There's essentially a 3-part process for acquiring unemployment payments: RegisteringFilingCertifying.

 Registering is setting up an account.
• Filing is providing personal details and work history.
• Certifying is checking-in every two weeks to say you're still unemployed/eligible.

Note: certifying is very important. If you do not do it, they will stop sending you money.

You can manage the benefits process online, over the phone, via mail, and even with a fax machine. But the Employment Development Department recommends online, if possible.

- APPLYING FOR THE FIRST TIME -

• Go to the Benefit Programs portal on the EDD website.

 Register for an account / Log in.

 Select "UI Online."

 Select "File New Claim"

 You'll need to provide the following details:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Phone number
  4. Social Security number
  5. California driver license or ID card
  6. Citizenship status
  7. Your last employer (name, address, phone number)
  8. The last date you worked
  9. The reason you're not working there now
  10. Your gross earnings from the last week you worked
  11. Information about all your employers in the past 18 months (contact details, how long you worked there, gross wages, weekly hours, hourly rate, the reason for no longer working there, etc).
  12. And, if you are a former federal employee, ex-military, non-citizen, or have a pension, there are additional forms and details to submit.

- UI OR PUA -

Gesundheit.

The Benefit Programs portal handles claims for both regular states Unemployment Insurance (UI) and the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

Don't panic if you're not sure which one you qualify for. You don't get to choose.

Applicants are asked the same set of history and earnings questions, plus new questions to determine eligibility.

The department then figures out which program fits your situation, and your paperwork will be processed accordingly.

- THE SELF-EMPLOYED -

The PUA program was created to provide financial relief for self-employed people and others who wouldn't typically qualify for unemployment.

That can include:

 Business owners
• Self-employed workers
• Gig workers
• Freelancers
• Independent contractors
• People with a limited work history

And others who qualify.

This modification by the Employment Development Department (EDD) is being supported by the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which is a provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is sometimes referred to as the stimulus package and/or the coronavirus relief package. The knee bone's connected to the... something.

PUA is set to run through Dec. 26.

- THE $600 HOLE -

Another provision of the CARES Act, the Pandemic Additional Compensation program, was the mechanism providing, until recently, an additional $600 per week to all unemployment recipients.

That federal benefit dried up at the end of July, and Congress was considering an extension (at less than the original amount), but nothing has been established yet.

Even if new federal benefits are approved, it could take up to 20 weeks to process them, depending on how they're calculated.

If Congress does not renew the $600 federal benefit, California might try to cover the hole with state funds. A state stimulus proposal is in the early stages.

For the time being, Californians are back to receiving weekly benefits based solely on past income or wages. That means:

• $167 - $450 per week if your claim is processed as PUA.
• $40 - $450 per week if your claim is processed as UI.

- REASONS FOR NOT WORKING -

They can be health reasons or work reasons.

You can file because of:

 Termination
• Cut hours
• Unpaid leave
• Furlough
• COVID-19 quarantine
• COVID-19 symptoms
• COVID-19 diagnosis
 COVID-19 diagnosis in a member of your household
• COVID-19 diagnosis in a member of your household and you are providing care
• Having to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19
• Your place of employment being closed as a direct result of COVID-19
• Missing/quitting work to be at home with your kids while schools are closed
 The job you were about to start isn't available now as a direct result of COVID-19
• 
Not being able to reach your place of employment as a direct result of COVID-19
• 
The pandemic severely limiting your ability to perform your customary work

And others.

- DISABILITY & PAID FAMILY LEAVE -

Or maybe you may want to apply for a different program entirely, like:

 State Disability Insurance (more)
• Disability Insurance (more | eligibility)
• Paid Family Leave (more | eligibility)
• Disaster Unemployment Assistance (more | disasters list)

EDD manages these too, but they're different programs with different pay structures and timeframes. However, some of the eligibility criteria seem to overlap.

If you do decide to apply and you don't get approved, you can then pivot to file an unemployment claim.

- CERTIFYING FOR BENEFITS -

Now back to unemployment. And filing a claim isn't the end of it. There are still critical steps to take so that payments aren't delayed or denied.

There are plenty of places for things to go wrong during this process, but mistakes are frequently made during the "certification" when people aren't sure how to answer the questions.

Keep these things in mind:

-- You must be well enough to work to receive UI benefits.
-- Benefits are paid according to how many days you're able to work.
-- Benefits are cut one-seventh for each day you can't work due to illness or injury.
-- You must be unemployed through no fault of your own.
-- You must be able and available for work.
-- You must be willing to accept suitable work.
-- You're typically required to look for work, but that's been waived for the time being.

You might be scheduled for a phone interview if there are questions about your paperwork. And EDD says that within two weeks of filing a claim, you'll be getting some mail:

1. Notice of Unemployment Insurance Claim Filed. This is an overview of the info you provided. You have 10 days from the mailing date to contact EDD if something was processed incorrectly.

2. Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award. This details your weekly benefit amount and the maximum amount of your claim, based on past wages reported by employers. You have 10 days from the mailing date to contact EDD if something was processed incorrectly.

3. Employment Development Department Customer Account Number"EDDCAN" is needed for the online portal, and may be used instead of your Social Security number when (if) speaking with the EDD.

4Unemployment Insurance Benefits: What You Need to Know. This details the eligibility requirements and reviews the step-by-step process to certifying ongoing benefits.

5. Continued Claim form. Every two weeks you can certify online via the Benefit Programs portal, or call EDD Tele-CertSM at (866) 333-4606, or mail back this form. Note: Tele-Cert is not available for PUA folks.


HOW LONG DO THE PAYMENTS LAST? -

We really want to give you a simple answer, but it's variable.

For PUA, there are up to 46 weeks of available benefits. Those payments can be backdated to February 2, as applicable, and will be available until December 31, 2020.

For UI, you can typically only collect for 26 weeks, but these are not typical times, so now there's something called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) which adds another 13 weeks of benefits

And, if you use all your PEUC benefits, you also may qualify for a 20-week FED-ED extension.

If you qualify for either extension it will be applied automatically. PEUC benefits are being handled in phases.

- YOUR CLAIM STATUS -

Consider this a decoder ring for government-speak.

 Paid: You met eligibility requirements.
• Pending: There may be an issue with your certification responses.
• Disqualified: You are not eligible this week.
• Excessive Earnings: No benefits because you made more than your weekly benefit amount.
 False Statement Penalty Week: No benefits this week as a penalty for giving a false statement (for example you went back to work but didn't tell the EDD and continued to collect benefits).



- GOOD TO KNOW -

Here is a medley of timelines, exceptions, best practices, and tips.

 File your claim the first week you lose your job or have your hours cut.

 Weeks begin on Sunday.

 The 7-day waiting period that typically accompanies the first certification has been waived until further notice.

 Typically, you have to look for work every week to certify. That condition has been waived until further notice.

 EDD says "it takes at least three weeks to process a claim for unemployment benefits and issue payment to most eligible workers." If you're getting payments on an EDD Debit Card, tack on a few more days for Bank of America to send it to you in the mail (if you had a card but you lost it, replace it here).

 Use the UI Benefit Calculator for an estimate of what you will receive.

 You can only file your claim online during certain hours:

Sunday 5 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Monday 4 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Tues.-Fri. 2 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Saturday 2 a.m. - 8 p.m.

• You can only file your claim by phone during certain hours:

Mon. - Fri, 8 a.m. to noon (except on state holidays).
English (800) 300-5616
Spanish (800) 326-8937
Cantonese (800) 547-3506
Mandarin (866) 303-0706
Vietnamese (800) 547-2058
TTY (800) 815-9387

• For troubleshooting, general questions, technical help, registration issues, password resets, EDD Account Number, etc, call (833) 978-2511 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m, seven days a week (except state holidays).

 File your UI claim by accessing the paper Unemployment Insurance Application. For faster and secure processing, fax the completed application to the number listed on the form. If you mail your application, use the address on the form and allow additional time for processing.

• Contact your local America's Job Center of California if you need help with mailing or faxing a paper application.

 Unemployment Insurance application (paper versions also in Spanish) --

Worked in California
Worked in California and Another State
Served in the Military
Worked for the Federal Government

• Even though PUA and UI get most of the attention, there are also other types of claims (like partial claims and work sharing).

 Some industries -- like entertainment -- have specific guidance about how to file properly in various scenarios, like receiving royalties for work that did not occur during the weeks you are unemployed.

 And more ways to contact EDD here and here.