Applying to Unemployment in California Due to COVID-19

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Not since the Great Depression have so many Americans been out of work, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak — and that means record numbers of Americans are trying to get unemployment insurance benefits from the government. Even in the best of times, that process can be overwhelming and frustrating. Here are some quick links and resources to make finding your way to the money you're eligible for easier.

If you are an employer, visit the California Employment Development Department's Employer hub for more information on how employees claiming unemployment affect your business.

How to claim unemployment

Visit California's helpful guide to applying for unemployment benefits for guidelines on the documents you need, what to expect as you file your claim, and how to proceed with unemployment benefits going forward. Because of the pandemic, this includes W-2 workers and the self-employed, freelancers, gig workers, and 1099-independent contractors, as well as those who qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You may experience delays applying for unemployment because of volume, but keep at it.

Create or access your Benefit Programs Online account to begin the application or recertification process. Onscreen instructions will walk you through it all. Check out the online FAQ if you have more questions. Visit the state's COVID-19 FAQ for specific questions about the pandemic.

If you need to speak to someone or apply over the phone, you have a couple different options.

  • Claims: To get help with your claims in English, call 1-800-300-5616, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. You can also speak to an operator in Spanish (1-800-326-8937), Cantonese (1-800-547-3506), Mandarin (1-866-303-0706), and Vietnamese (1-800-547-2058).
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing: Access TTY support at 1-800-815-9387.
  • UI Automated Self-Service Line: Call (866) 333-4606 for English or Spanish, 24 hours a day, seven days a week

In addition to unemployment payments from the state, the federal government will distribute $600 alongside each disbursal through December 26, 2020. Benefits can last for 26 weeks, and should be backdated to the week you first became unemployed. An additional 13 weeks of benefits are available through the federal CARES Act. In California, if you have already filed for PUA, this extension may be automatic.

Who is eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

  • Those who don't qualify for regular unemployment benefits can still get PUA if they are diagnosed with, experiencing symptoms of, or affected directly by COVID-19, including:
  • A member of the individual's household has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • The individual is providing care for a family member or member of the household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 emergency, and the school or care is required for the individual to work
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a COVID-19 quarantine or because a healthcare professional has advised him or her to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns
  • The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of COVID-19
  • The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19
  • The individual has quit his/her job or was laid off as a direct result of COVID-19
  • The individual's place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19

Learn more about California's PUA program and get questions answered at the state's online PUA FAQ.