During these unprecedented times, there are so many questions where finances are concerned. How can you ensure that you’re able to pay your bills on time when so many important aspects of life are up in the air? It can be frustrating and stressful, but fortunately, most states have plans in place to help individuals and families get the resources they need. One of the best resources available now is unemployment insurance, which has been expanded to assist those who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify. But how do you access those much-needed funds?
There are a few steps you will need to take, and it’s imperative to be prepared before you get started. This means gathering paperwork, such as your paycheck information, driver’s license, and documentation related to citizenship status. You will also need to know key dates, such as when you last worked or when you might be able to return to work.
Make sure you are eligible
First and foremost, you will need to ensure that you are eligible to receive benefits. You can refer to the California Employment Development Department's website to see if you qualify. When you file, you will need to have earned enough wages during the base period to establish a claim. The base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the beginning date of the claim.
You will also need to be:
There is generally a seven-day waiting period to file, but this is being waived until further notice due to the coronavirus, as is the requirement that you continue searching for work while you are unemployed.
File a claim
In California, you can file a claim by phone, fax, or mail, but the easiest way is to file online. In the application, there is a section that allows you to choose “Out of work due to Covid-19” as the reason for the separation from your employer. If you are self-employed or are a freelancer, business owner, or contractor, you are eligible to apply due to provisions in the CARES Act; simply enter your net income under the section marked “Additional Information/Natural Disasters.”
If your last day of work was February 2, 2020, or later, you may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. If you filed after March 29, you will be eligible for an extra $600 per week. Keep in mind that these payments will be taxable income, just like wages would be. If you are deemed eligible to receive benefits, you will receive benefits retroactive to your last day of work. It’s important to note that if you applied for unemployment insurance in 2019, and the claim is more than 12 months old, you will need to file a new claim.
Get your payment
California has been hit extremely hard by the large volume of unemployment claims in recent weeks. The following graph from California's Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) compares the early weeks of the current economic downturn to the great recession:
Expect delays and long wait times when filing. You may even have to try numerous times to get through for an online claim, but it’s important to be persistent and follow directions carefully. You should also make sure you check all your input to ensure everything is spelled correctly and that your address, email, phone number, and personal information are all correct.
In California, unemployment benefits are issued by debit card. Due to the number of claims, it may take some time to receive your card in the mail. If you have filed for unemployment in the past few years and already have a card, your funds will be automatically issued to that card unless it has expired, in which case, there are instructions online on how to renew the card.
Under normal circumstances, unemployment insurance is available for 26 weeks, but the CARES Act has extended this to 39 weeks.
Create a budget
After you file a claim for unemployment benefits, you should have an idea of how much you can expect to receive once the claim goes through. This will allow you to budget accordingly for the next several months. It’s important to reach out to your mortgage company/landlord, utility companies, and insurance agency to find out what they are doing to give relief. Some companies are offering reduced rates, while others are returning premiums or security deposits to help offset cost-of-living expenses for their clients and customers.
Filing for unemployment can take some time and patience. But bear in mind, these are unprecedented times, and your local agency is working hard to get new rules into place to make things easier for everyone. With a little preparation and persistence, you can ensure that you and your family will receive the assistance that you need. [cite::171::cite] [cite::172::cite]