The number of Californians in the unemployment line has dramatically increased the past few weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there is no literal line — filing for unemployment insurance takes place online — additional help from the federal government is here.
For the week ending on March 21, California officials say 186,809 claims were filed in the state. That is a 286% jump in just two weeks and a 386% increase over the same week last year.
Nationwide, the story is much the same. In fact, economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve this week estimated that the nation’s total employment reductions could reach 47 million, which would translate to a 32.1% unemployment rate. And, there were 3 million new claims filed nationally last week.
CARES ACT Will Boost Unemployment Checks
President Donald Trump has signed into law the CARES Act, which supplements weekly unemployment checks by $600 and lasts through July 31.
The state Employment Development Dept. administers unemployment insurance. They say they are working to implement the new federal rules.
“EDD is working with deliberate speed to stand up this new program and the other new provisions to serve unemployed Californians,” an EDD spokesperson said Tuesday by email.
Additionally, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency order waived the normal one-week waiting to receive benefits. The CARES Act extends unemployment insurance for an additional 13 weeks. State unemployment insurance usually lasts 13-26 weeks.
To file a claim online, click here.
How Much Does Unemployment Insurance Pay?
The insurance pays weekly, depending on how much you earned while working. EDD calculates all earnings (wages, sick pay, vacation pay, bonuses, etc.) in quarterly blocks — Jan.-March; April-June; July-Sept.; and Oct.-Dec. The highest earnings quarter— stretching back a year — will determine the weekly award.
The earnings in the highest quarter are then divided by 26 to determine the award, with a $40 minimum and $450 maximum per week.
For example, a worker making $15 an hour would earn $7,800 a quarter ($15 x 13 weeks x 40 hours per week, assuming no other income from side gigs, overtime, etc.). Divided by 26, the weekly benefit would be $300 per week.
A normal weekly wage at $15/hour would be $600, so it is a significant loss of wages, not to mention any other potential benefits such as health insurance.
With the extra $600 from the federal government, that $300 amount is bumped up to $900 a week, now providing more than a regular week’s paycheck.
EDD offers a calculator tool to estimate the weekly award.
Does UI Pay Better Than Working?
With the federal supplement, for many workers, the answer is yes.
An FAQ from the House Ways and Means Committee explains why the federal supplement may temporarily provide a worker with more income than they earned while on the job.
“Public health officials tell us the best thing most Americans can do is to stay home. So in this case, we do not want inadequate wage replacement to force workers, especially those who would normally earn very low UC (unemployment compensation) benefits, to continue searching for jobs or working in violation of public health orders.”
Based on California’s unemployment compensation chart, a worker who made $26.50 (about $55,000 annually) or less an hour, would receive more through the federally-supplemented unemployment insurance.
Can You Still Work and Earn Unemployment Insurance?
Yes, but most of that amount would be deducted from your weekly benefit.
For example, you earn $200 in a week by any means (part-time job, rate for a one-time event, any compensation you may receive after leaving a prior job), 75% of it would be deducted from the weekly award.
So, 75% of $200 is $150. Thus, at $15/hr., a weekly UI award of $300 would be reduced to $150.
The $600 federal supplement remains constant and would not be reduced for working in a given week, according to several congressional staff members GV Wire spoke with.
Who Qualifies for Unemployment Insurance?
Any employee who is out of work through no fault of their own qualifies for unemployment. It does not apply to employees fired for cause, such as not showing up to work, insubordination, etc.
EDD conducts a phone interview to determine eligibility and how much the award is.
While self-employed are normally not eligible for state unemployment, the CARES Act allows them to receive the $600 supplement. Federal officials advise workers in that category to file an unemployment claim with the state in the same manner as regular employees.
There are many exceptions and carve-outs still being determined.
“We are currently awaiting further guidance from U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in order to implement the various provisions. That includes all of the parameters needed to establish a new 13-week extension of benefits paid for by the federal government when someone exhausts their regular UI claim during an established timeline,” an EDD spokesperson wrote via email.
There are also a number of requirements while receiving unemployment, including filling out a weekly form to accurately report any wages earned during the week and a commitment to look for a job during the week.
Other EDD Programs
EDD provides other compensation programs for those affected by COVID-19.
Disability Insurance offers a weekly check for those too sick to work. It pays up to 70% ($1,300 maximum) of wages and lasts up to a year.
Paid Family Leave offers benefits for taking care of others, such as a child or parent. PFL also pays up to 70% ($1,300 maximum) and normally lasts six weeks, or eight weeks after July 1.