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Filing for unemployment in California | 5 things to know

There’s a surge of unemployment claims coming into the California Employment Development Department. But, they say they’re working hard to process those claims.

CALIFORNIA, USA — There's a surge in unemployment claims being filed at the California Employment Development Department [EDD], according to Lorre Levy, spokesperson for the EDD. 

Unemployment is a big concern right now amid the coronavirus pandemic because so many people are either being laid off from work or are seeing their hours being reduced. 

Filing an unemployment claim can be done online, and anyone who has had their hours reduced or is out of work, through no fault of their own, can file. Here's five key things to know when you file for unemployment in California:

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1. Looking for work while on unemployment

One of the usual requirements for being eligible for unemployment includes being available, actively looking for work, and ready to accept work. 

Simply enough, Levey says, if you have plans to return to the same employer, you likely won't have to worry about looking for a new job while on unemployment. She says, under this circumstance, that particular requirement is normally waived.

Other requirements to file a claim include being totally or partially unemployed and being unemployed through no fault of your own.

2. How much does unemployment pay? And, for how long?

Benefits will vary depending on the wages you earned, but the maximum weekly benefit is $450. 

As far as how long you'll be able to get benefit payments, it's about 26 weeks. This can be stretched out if you collect partial payments, which can happen if you earn wages while on unemployment.

However, there are situations where this benefit can be elongated. In recessionary periods, Levey said the EDD has seen the federal government step in and offer federal extensions of unemployment benefits. This happened four times during the last recession.

With the coronavirus pandemic, the EDD is keeping an eye on the nation’s capital to see what becomes available.

3. Unemployment for the self-employed and disaster insurance

Levey described unemployment insurance as being comparable to car insurance. Payments have to be made to get coverage under the program.

“In other words, somebody must have been contributing to these programs on your behalf in order to be able to qualify for benefits if that time comes,” Levey said.

If a self-employed person hasn't been paying into it with a self-coverage option, that person wouldn't normally qualify. 

Disaster Unemployment Assistance is the caveat to this situation. Under this program, the self-employed are eligible. The federal government would have to make this program available.

In general, it provides unemployment benefits to people who became unemployed as a direct result of a president-declared major disaster.

4. How long does it take to get your first payment?

Getting your first payment from unemployment will take time, so have patience.

Levey says it always takes a least a few weeks to do the mandatory checking of wages and checking with the employer in order to process a claim and find people eligible for payments.

The good news is that the governor waived the one week waiting period, which means the EDD can pay you for the first week rather than having it be an unpaid period. You’ll still have to wait for that to happen though.

RELATED: How to apply for disability, unemployment, or family leave during the coronavirus pandemic

“Understand, it could take a few weeks to be able to receive any payments you may be eligible to receive,” Levey said.

5. EDD won't stop during the coronavirus pandemic

Levey says it is all hands on deck at the EDD because they are seeing a surge in unemployment claims and filings. She says they have people on overtime, have redirected staff, and are considering bringing in people from retirement and making new hires to get through all the claims.

With all the closures of businesses going on, she says the EDD won’t be one of them. They’re an essential service and people will get paid, one way or the other.

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