Running out of California unemployment benefits? Here’s what comes next


 Californians who were laid off after shelter-in-place orders took effect in mid-March and haven’t worked since then have already begun to exhaust their first 26 weeks of regular state unemployment benefits. Millions more will run out in the weeks ahead.

The good news is that most of these people will be automatically transitioned to a federal program known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, which provides up to 13 additional weeks of benefits through the end of this year. When PEUC ends, they could transition to another round of benefits known as Fed-Ed, which could last up to 20 additional weeks.

This is the normal sequence of events for former employees who are receiving regular state unemployment insurance, what the Employment Development Department calls UI.

For those collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for the self-employed, gig workers, and others who aren’t getting state benefits, the rules are different and the timeline much simpler. Their benefits began the week they lost work because of the coronavirus and will last for up to 46 weeks, but no later than Dec. 31, unless Congress extends them.

If you are on regular state benefits, here’s what to know and what to expect:

When you file and qualify for regular state benefits, you are awarded benefits based on your earnings during a previous 12-month period known as your base period. In California, benefits range from $40 to $450 a week for up to 26 weeks. (This excludes the $600 per week federal supplement added to benefits from April through July and a new $300 weekly supplement for some that may last as little as five weeks.) Your maximum dollar benefit is generally your weekly benefit amount times the number of weeks in your claim.

In California, benefits begin the Sunday before you filed your claim. The normal one-week waiting period between filing and starting benefits has been waived temporarily. If you got laid off and waited a week or more before filing for unemployment, you can contact EDD and ask for an earlier start date.

Once you qualify for your initial round of benefits (typically 26 weeks), you will have 52 weeks to use them. EDD calls this your “benefit year.” If you get temporary or part-time work, any money you earn each week will be deducted from your benefit that week according to a formula. If you make more than $100 one week, 75% of the amount will be deducted from your benefit.

For example, if your weekly benefit is $450 and you earn $600 or more one week, you won’t get any benefit that week but you will still have that unused $450 available for weeks of unemployment remaining in your benefit year. If you earn $300 one week, you will get $225 in unemployment that week and the other $225 will be available to use within your benefit year, according to George Warner, an attorney with Legal Aid at Work.

If you exhaust your initial benefits, and you are still within your benefit year, the EDD will automatically file a Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation extension for you, so you can get up to 13 more weeks of benefits. You should get a notice by mail five to seven business days later with more information.

This will be the case for most people who were laid off in March or later, but remember that PEUC ends after the last week in December unless Congress extends it.

If you got laid off earlier, and your benefit year has expired when you exhaust your initial state benefits, you must open a new claim, with a new 12-month base period. The EDD will look back to see if you have earned enough wages in this new base period to qualify for a new regular claim. If you have, you will begin a new claim with a new benefit amount and new benefit year.

If you have not earned enough in your new base period to qualify for a new claim, you will get a $0 award notice in the mail. However, within a few days, you will get another notice showing that EDD automatically filed a PEUC extension, adding up to 13 more weeks onto your original claim. You will need to continue certifying for payments every two weeks.

What happens when your 13 weeks of PEUC run out? If you are still unemployed, and still within your original benefit year, you could transition to Federal-State Extended Duration benefits, which EDD calls Fed-Ed.

The eligibility requirements are slightly different for regular unemployment and Fed-Ed. If EDD determines that you are eligible, it will automatically file a Fed-Ed extension for you. Within five to seven days, it will mail you a notice with additional information, including the need to continue your biweekly certifications.

At the moment, you can get up to 20 weeks of Fed-Ed, bringing the maximum duration of regular state unemployment to 59 weeks. Note that your 13-week PEUC extension and up to 20 weeks of Fed-Ed do not have to be used up within your original benefit year; only your 26 weeks of initial benefits must be used up within 52 weeks.

There’s no guarantee Fed-Ed will stay at 20 weeks. Its duration depends on the state’s unemployment rate and whether the federal government agrees to pay 100% of Fed-Ed beyond this year.

If the EDD determines you are not eligible for Fed-Ed, you will get a disqualification notice explaining why with information on how to appeal. Meanwhile, the EDD will also open a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claim for you. To get PUA, you must certify that you have lost work because of specific reasons related to the coronavirus. The EDD will send you a form where you can certify that you have, and you should return it within 10 days.

If you do qualify for PUA, it will last for 46 weeks, minus the number of weeks of regular unemployment you have received (usually 26) minus any weeks of Fed-Ed you may have somehow received, through year-end.

As for the extra $300 a week in Lost Wages Assistance approved by President Trump, the EDD has already begun sending out these payments, in phases, to people who qualify. For more on this program, see http://bit.ly/eddlostwagesupdate.

Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: kpender@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kathpender