Easy Guide to Unemployment (UI) in California


California currently has some exceptions and more flexible rules regarding unemployment due to COVID-19.

  • There is no longer a 7-day waiting period for certification. You will be paid for the first week of your claim after you submit your certification for the first two weeks.
  • You do not have to look for work in order to receive benefits.
  • You are now also eligible to get unemployment if an employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19; if you are quarantined and are expected to return to work after the quarantine is over; and if you leave employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.
  • Benefits are being extended, and you may be able to get an extra 13 weeks or 20 weeks.

Many people have been experiencing delays due to backlog. EDD has set up a tracker so you can follow updates related to the backlog here.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): There is also a new program for people who have lost income due to COVID-19 and aren’t eligible for unemployment (such as people who are self-employed). This is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) you may have heard about, and you can learn more about it here. If you’re eligible for regular unemployment you don’t need, and aren’t eligible for, PUA. You cannot receive both

Introduction to Unemployment Benefits

Unemployment Insurance (UI) is the longstanding federal/state program commonly referred to as “unemployment.” The government provides unemployment benefit services for people who have lost their income, to help them as they seek work. Essentially, your state government, instead of your employer, gives you a paycheck. This takes the form of a weekly income that is delivered in two week increments.

Unemployment insurance has existed before and will exist after the pandemic. Your eligibility will be determined the same way it always has been (plus a few new COVID-19 additions). It is the most likely benefit you’ll receive if you lost your job during the pandemic and receive a W-2.

The unemployment income you’ll get is much lower than your paycheck from your past job, and there is a limit for what you can earn and for how long you can get money. The goal is to assist you financially while you seek a new job, not to support you comfortably.

Note: this unemployment income is called “Unemployment Insurance” but it doesn’t have anything in common with typical insurance, it’s simply money that gets paid directly to you.


What Unemployment Benefits Are Available?

There are multiple types of income that you can receive from the government. Here we are talking about unemployment insurance income, but you may be eligible for disability insurance income or paid family leave income. Right now, the government is also issuing pandemic assistance income (PUA). If you’re eligible, you would only get one type of benefit at the same time.

UI unemployment is for people who have become unemployed through no fault of their own (you can’t receive it if you got fired), and the eligibility, income amount, and length of time you can receive it is determined by your state. You may be able to apply for UI more than once during your career, if enough time has passed and if you meet the requirements again.

In California, you can expect to receive between $40 and $450 per week depending on your previous income. This is calculated by your income over the past four quarters. No matter how high your income was over the last year, you will never receive more than $450 weekly in unemployment benefits.

Usually you can only get benefits for a period of 26 weeks (six months), but due to the pandemic, you might get an extra 13 weeks or 20 weeks if needed.

Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment eligibility, and the amount you get, is primarily dependent on your past income and your unemployment circumstances. Here are some of the factors involved.


You must have been earning a certain amount of wages over a 12-month base period leading up to your claim. In order to qualify, you must have earned at least one of the following:

  • $1,300 in the quarter you received the most money within the last 12 months
  • $900 in the quarter you received the most money within the last 12 months and a total earnings of 1.25x what you earned in your highest quarter

Here is some more information on how this is calculated.

Employment Status

You also 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

Typically, you’d get unemployment for something like getting let go from your job because of budget cuts or redundancy, or mass layoffs. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll get unemployment if you quit or are fired. EDD may review your case, but exceptions are uncommon.

Ongoing Certification

Once you’ve been approved, you need to report your weekly job status by filling out a certification form online (or through the mail) every two weeks. In order to get the money you’ve been deemed eligible for each week, you’d have to keep being:

  • Physically able to work
  • Available for work
  • Ready and willing to accept work immediately

*You do not need to be looking for work during the pandemic, but typically this is a requirement as well.

You will need to report any income you receive each week, even if it’s just a small job. If you don’t earn as much money from the job as you would have earned through unemployment income that week, you’ll be paid the difference. If you earn more money than you would have received through unemployment income that week, you won’t receive any unemployment income for that week. You can keep using the benefits until you are consistently employed every week.

How to Apply to California Unemployment Insurance

You can apply for unemployment online. Or you can apply by phone, mail, or fax — look up info here. It is fastest and easiest to do it online, and we’ll walk you through those steps.

You’ll want to apply as soon as possible after you lose your employment. While it’s currently possible to backdate your claim during the pandemic, a lot of people have had trouble getting a backdate processed. You wouldn’t want to have to wait on your benefits or miss out on any.

  1. Register for a benefits program online account on the EDD site so that you can start using the benefits portal.
  2. Login to your account on the portal. Select File a Claim and fill out all your information, then submit. You’ll receive a confirmation number — you may want to screenshot the page in case you need the number later.
  3. Wait for documents. You’ll receive a customer number in the mail and a number of other documents from EDD, ideally with two weeks of filing. You’ll also receive your EDD debit card, which is what will contain your benefits. The income will be added to your card every time it’s issued and you can use the card or transfer to your account.
  4. Certify For Benefits. After you’re approved, you can start certifying for benefits, which you will continue to do every 2 weeks. You can do this by logging in to your account on the portal. You will see the prompts to certify whenever there are weeks available to you.

Keep in mind it’s almost impossible to get ahold of anyone at EDD by phone. Your best option is to try to sort out anything you can online and get your details correct the first time. There is a Contact Us section you can click on from within the portal, but there is a huge backlog and you may not hear back, at least not in a timely manner.

Delays in Benefits

California in particular has had a huge backlog of claims during the pandemic. This is primarily due to understaffing and EDD attention to fraud investigation. There is a new technology in place for fraud reduction that is speeding things up, but some people have waited weeks or months to receive their benefits (or approval), and it’s not uncommon for you to receive a chunk of benefits at once after not being paid for a long time.

EDD has been working to ramp up its resources and new applicants should be seeing less of this, but you may have to hold tight for a while. Follow up, but know that you may be suffering from this backlog. You can follow updates on the backlog here.