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California unemployment benefits: $300 boost, new extensions and eligibility

Regular UI, PEUC, PUA, FED-ED. Keeping track of the different benefit programs and extensions can be confusing. Here's what you need to know about each one.

SACRAMENTO, California — With a growing number of people running out of their regular unemployment benefits, we are hearing from more viewers with questions about the different benefit programs and whether they qualify.

With federal COVID-19 relief now signed into law, some unemployment benefit programs that expired on December 26 will be able to continue. EDD said people who did not exhaust benefits will not see a gap in benefits.

Here is a look at the different programs, extensions, who qualifies, and when the payments end in California.

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Unemployment Insurance (UI) or regular unemployment is the most common unemployment benefits people receive. Unemployed people who qualify for UI can receive up to 26 weeks of benefits over a 12 month period.

In order to qualify for UI you must have earned enough wages during a base period to open a claim. Additionally, you must be:

  • Totally or partially unemployed
  • Unemployed through no fault of your own
  • Physically able to work
  • Available for work
  • Ready and willing to accept work immediately

Because of COVID-19, California's Employment Development Department has made some temporary exceptions for UI claims. EDD has waived a seven day waiting period for all claims after January 19, 2020. Also, you are not required to look for work each week to be eligible for benefits.

Weekly UI benefits range from $40 to $450. You can get an estimate of your benefits here. With the massive federal COVID-19 relief having recently been signed into law, the benefits boost has been revived at $300 per week through March 14, 2021. This is instead of the extra $600 per week benefit that expired in July. 

At the end of your benefit year (52 weeks after you first opened your claim), you will need to file a new UI claim.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

Currently, people who use all their regular unemployment benefits are getting an 11-week extension under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program or PEUC. Payments under PEUC are the same as your UI benefit.

The benefits were originally set for March 29, 2020 until December 26, 2020 in California. The federal stimulus bill effectively extended the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program by 11 weeks, now providing up to 24 weeks of benefits.

According to EDD, the new 11 weeks of PEUC benefits can only be paid for weeks beginning December 27.

The federal benefits boost that has been revived at $300 per week through March 14, 2021, will also apply to PEUC. 

Will there be a gap in benefits for PUA/PEUC?

EDD spokesperson Loree Levy shared the following guidance with our Dollars and Sense team:

  • For those on PUA and PEUC with a balance remaining on their current claim (i.e, did not exhaust benefits prior to the week-ending date of 12/26/20), they will not have a one (1) week gap in benefits.  They can resume collecting on their balance and up to 11 weeks of extended benefits can be added for weeks beginning 12/27/20 as long as the individuals meet ongoing eligibility requirements.
  • For those on PUA and PEUC with NO balance remaining on their current claim (i.e., did exhaust prior to the week-ending date of 12/26/20), they will have a gap in benefits because the extended 11 weeks of benefits, if otherwise eligible, are only payable for weeks beginning 12/27/20. 

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Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

The CARES Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program or PUA. This program primarily helps self-employed workers and contractors who otherwise would not qualify for unemployment benefits.

PUA has been extended by 11 weeks, providing up to 57 weeks of benefits.

EDD said, "those who had a balance remaining on their claim come December 26 will continue on with that claim and then transition to the additional up to 11 benefits as long as they remain eligible.  Those who had a PUA claim expire before the week ending December 26 won’t be eligible for the new benefits until weeks beginning December 27."

Claims can be backdated to February 2, 2020. The program was set to end on December 26, 2020, but the recent federal COVID-19 relief bill extends these special pandemic benefits for gig workers. There will be a one week lapse in benefits as the federal stimulus bill rolls out. 

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According to EDD, you may qualify for PUA if you are not eligible for regular UI and you are unemployed or partially unemployed for a COVID-19 reason. People who may qualify include:

  • Business owners
  • Self-employed workers
  • Independent contractors
  • People with a limited work history
  • People who have used all their regular UI benefits as well as any extended benefits
  • People who are serving false statement penalty weeks on their regular UI claim

PUA benefits range from $167 to $450 per week. The unemployment benefits boost of an additional $300 per week through March 14, 2021 will also apply. 

Federal-State Extended Duration (FED-ED)

The final unemployment program available in California is the Federal-State Extended Duration or FED-ED. It currently provides up to 20 weeks of additional benefits for people during periods of high unemployment. The new COVID relief package means it will stay at 20 weeks, instead of rolling back to 13.

FED-ED is only paid during an extended benefit period of high unemployment, and only after people have run out of all regular Unemployment Insurance benefits. This means people who qualified only for PUA benefits cannot get FED-ED.

EDD will automatically file a FED-ED extension for people who have collected all their UI and PEUC benefits. Once PEUC ends on December 26, EDD will file FED-ED extensions for those eligible people.

FED-ED payments will be the same as the weekly benefit amount from your UI claim, however, there are limits to the total benefit amount.

Your maximum benefit amount will be the lesser of either:

  • 50% of the maximum benefit amount of your UI claim
  • 13 times the weekly benefit amount

EDD shares this example:

You received a weekly benefit amount of $400 and a maximum benefit amount of $8,800 in your last regular UI claim and you have collected all of the maximum benefit amount. To calculate the FED-ED maximum benefit amount:

  • Calculation 1: 50% of $8,800 = $4,400
  • Calculation 2: 13 X $400 = $5,200

Your FED-ED maximum benefit amount will be $4,400 because Calculation 1 is the lesser of the two.

One of the more common questions we have received is about when FED-ED ends. The short answer is we don’t know for sure, but the end date is not imminent.

California offers FED-ED when the state’s Total Unemployment Rate is higher than 6.5% and 10% higher than the same time period in either of the last two years.

As of December 13, California’s Total Unemployment Rate was 10.5% which is 269% higher than last year and 250% higher than two years ago. All numbers well above the threshold for FED-ED.

There are several states that have already dropped below their trigger points for FED-ED benefits. Its end date in California will depend on how quickly the state's economy recovers.

$300 benefit boost

The new COVID relief package also includes a $300 per week boost to unemployment benefits for up to 11 weeks through March 13, 2021.

EDD said it will start sending out the $300 payments to people collecting regular Unemployment Insurance or FED-ED extension benefits starting as early as Sunday, January 3. 

EDD said it will add the $300 for PUA and PEUC claims as soon as the revised programs are in place. 

If you have a question about unemployment, text the Dollars and Sense team at 916-321-3310.

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