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Coronavirus: How can I get unemployment benefits if I lost my job or my hours were cut?

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday more than 1.6 million Californians have filed for unemployment since March 13, including 150,000 since the start of the week.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is staggering and has forced the state to re-deploy hundreds of staffers at the Employment Development Department to be able to process claims on an “around the clock” basis.

After six Bay Area counties announced a decision to extend an existing shelter-in-place order to May 3 on Tuesday, the expectation is that more people around the region and around the state will accept pay cuts, have their hours slashed or lose their jobs altogether.

If you’re one of the millions of Californians who have had hours reduced or are now out of a job, here’s a FAQ that explains who qualifies for unemployment benefits and how you can file a claim.

Question: What are unemployment benefits?

Answer: Unemployment insurance payments made by the state provide temporary financial assistance to unemployed workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

In other words, people receive money while they are out of work.

Question: How do I file an unemployment claim?

Answer: You can file an unemployment insurance claim online, over the phone or by mail. Due to the significant increase in claims filed, the state of California’s employment development department recommends you use UI Online for faster service.

To file over the phone, representatives are available Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-12 noon and can be reached at 1-800-300-5616.

To file by mail, fill out the most applicable form provided here and address your claim to EDD P.O. Box 12906 Oakland, CA, 94604-2909.

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Question: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was laid off from my full-time job. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

Answer: Yes, but you must file a claim with the state of California to receive benefits.

Question: I’m a part-time employee, freelancer, independent contractor, gig worker or I’m self-employed and I lost work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Do I qualify for unemployment?

Answer: Yes, as long as you can prove your unemployment is connected to the new coronavirus outbreak. Types of employees mentioned above must be able to provide work and pay documentation to the Employment Development Department.

Question: I’m an employee who has been furloughed. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

Answer: Yes, even though there is traditionally some gray area with furloughed employees, the federal government’s coronavirus stimulus package ensures that furloughed employees who file unemployment claims with their state will be eligible to receive benefits.

Question: I’m an employee who agreed to a salary cut to keep my job. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

Answer: No. Assuming you are still considered a full-time employee at your place of work, you do not qualify for unemployment benefits.

Question: I’m an employee who is on paid leave (or receiving paid sick days) and am not working right now. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

Answer: No. Assuming you are still considered a full-time employee at your place of work, you do not qualify for unemployment benefits.

Question: How much money will I get if I file for unemployment?

Answer: It depends.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Response Act President Trump signed Friday will expand unemployment benefits and guarantee an additional $600 a week to a person’s regular unemployment benefits, but only through July 31.

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In the state of California, people receiving regular unemployment benefits get between $40 and $450 per week, depending on a person’s highest-earning quarter in a 12-month period beginning and ending before you apply.

You can estimate your regular benefits by filling out this form. The estimate does not include the additional $600 per week that people collecting unemployment payments will receive through July 31.

Question: How long will I receive unemployment benefits?

Answer: People who receive unemployment benefits in California are typically able to receive benefits for 26 weeks, or six months.

The Pandemic Emergency Compensation program funded by stimulus package passed last week extends this period to 39 weeks, giving Californians a total of 39 weeks of unemployment benefits. The additional $600 per week people collecting unemployment will receive will still cease to be paid out after July 31.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is a separate program funded by the federal stimulus package, will also provide up to 39 weeks of benefits for people who are not typically eligible for state benefits, such as people who are self-employed or people who did not work enough last year to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Where can I learn more about filing for unemployment and how the stimulus package has changed the qualifications?

Answer: Here are two excellent resources.

A) This fact sheet from the National Employment Law Project details the new programs created by the CARES Act and what they do.

B) This list of frequently asked questions from the state of California’s Employment Development Department provides more details on a wide-ranging series of topics for people claiming unemployment.

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