Filing for Unemployment in California Due to COVID-19? Here’s What You Need to Know

Chang Fu
Apr 13, 2020

California Unemployment Benefits COVID 2019

With the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, the California unemployment rate continues to skyrocket as more and more businesses close their doors each day. California finds itself amongst the states most dramatically affected, with 878,000 new unemployment insurance claims filed in the last week of March alone. 

This unprecedented influx continues to strain state agencies tasked with processing these claims, resulting in extended wait times to receive benefits and mounting frustration amongst recently unemployed Californians. Should you find yourself among those feeling lost or frustrated, be assured that the system is operating, and your claim will be addressed.   

Curious about how to apply for unemployment in California? Below, we’ll review everything you need to know about applying.

  • California Unemployment Benefits COVID 2019
    • How To Apply For Unemployment, California
  • What You’ll Need
  • Online California Unemployment Application
    • Registering With EDD And Benefits Program Online
    • Filing Your Claim
    • Claim Submission
  • CA Unemployment Benefits By Phone
    • Filing By Phone
    • After You File
  • California Unemployment Application By Mail
  • California Unemployment Eligibility Requirements
    • Exceptions To Eligibility Requirements
  • Federal Unemployment Assistance
    • CARES Act Eligibility and Disbursement
    • CARES Act Timeline
    • Federal Aid For The Self-Employed
  • Additional Resource For Financial Support: Possible Finance

How To Apply For Unemployment, California

To apply for unemployment benefits California residents need, your launch point will be the state’s Employment Development Department website found here. Click on the “Claims” icon to view the page where you will find details on the various options for registration, along with links to the two enrollment forms you will need to fill out should you choose to register online. You will find that you may apply for unemployment benefits in one of three ways:

  • Online
  • By telephone
  • By mail or fax

What You’ll Need

Regardless of which method you choose, the information you will provide to complete your claim will be the same. To apply for unemployment California, you will need:

  • Information regarding your most recent employer: legal name of the company, name of your direct supervisor, physical address, mailing address, and phone number.
  • The last date you worked and the reason your work has ceased.
  • Statement of your earnings for the last week you worked, starting Sunday of your last week and ending with the day you worked last.
  • Information regarding all employers you have worked for in the past 18 months: legal names of the companies, names of your direct supervisors, physical address, mailing address, phone number, average number of hours worked per week, rate of pay (hourly), and an explanation of why you no longer work there.
  • If you are a former federal employee you must provide Notice to Federal Employees About Unemployment Insurance, Standard Form 8.
  • Ex-military members must provide DD 214 Member 4 copy.
  • Affirm that you are a U.S. citizen and thus eligible to work in the U.S.
  • If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need to provide information from your employment authorization document

Be aware that any false or inaccurate reports will result in delays to your claim (at best) or outright denial of your claim (at worst). Be sure that your figures are accurate at the time of filing, as they will be corroborated by your former supervisors. 

Online California Unemployment Application

When selecting your application method, bear in mind that online registration is the option preferred and recommended by claimants and California unemployment officials alike. It is the most efficient and convenient option for both claimants and the EDD and has been made more so with recent upgrades to the EDD website. To apply for unemployment, California residents can submit their application during the following hours:

  • Sunday: 5 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
  • Monday: 4 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Tuesday- Friday: 2 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Saturday: 2 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Registering With EDD And Benefits Program Online

Before you are able to file a claim online, you first need to register and create two personal profiles; one with EDD and one with their auxiliary Benefits Program Online. Links for both are available on the page linked above. 

Filing Your Claim

When it comes to unemployment, California’s process hinges upon your profile being established. From there, you’ll be able to begin your claim. Simply follow the prompts to fill out the forms with the information regarding your employment history. Note that some of your former employers’ information will be filled in for you automatically. Do not change any of it. The accuracy of this information has already been verified by EDD.

Claim Submission

Once your claim has been submitted you will receive a confirmation number. Keep this number for quick reference to your claim, should you have any questions down the road. Within 10 days of submission, you will receive a letter in the mail with a short questionnaire. Fill this out and return it as soon as possible. Once this is received by the department, you will receive notice of your awards and funds will be disbursed to you via state debit card.

CA Unemployment Benefits By Phone

Under normal circumstances, applying for California unemployment via phone is the most expeditious way to go about it. Before the current pandemic erupted, dedicated operators stood by during normal business hours five days a week to assist new claimants.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 quarantine has caused a massive surge in unemployment claims, which has prompted EDD to pull operators off of the phones to help process the surplus. The result is a reduced number of operators available to take calls for a shorter period of time each day. 

New Operator Hours: Should you wish to try your luck on the phone, operators will be available to take your call Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

Multilingual operators are on staff to support those who speak:

  • English
  • Spanish
  • Cantonese
  • Mandarin
  • Vietnamese
  • TTY (Hearing Impaired)

Filing By Phone

To begin filing, dial the toll-free number that corresponds to your primary language. Be sure to have all the necessary information at hand so that your operator can complete your claim as quickly as possible. Failure to provide all necessary information will require you to call back later and delay the distribution of funds. 

After You File

As with claims filed electronically, claims filed via phone will be followed by a short questionnaire sent to you via snail mail. Simply fill it out, and send the designated portion of the document back to EDD in the envelope provided. You should then receive notice of your awards and a state-issued debit card preloaded with your available funds. 

California Unemployment Application By Mail

There is a mail-in option for those of you who prefer more traditional methods, and the process is relatively straightforward. Download and print the appropriate forms from the EDD website, fill them out, and send them by post to the EDD office in Sacramento (the exact address is available on the website). The other option is to print the forms and fax them to the appropriate number for the type of application you are filing. There are four different designations you may file under, so be sure to fill out the one that pertains to your personal work history.

  • Previously worked in California
  • Previously worked in California and Another State
  • Former Military Service Member
  • Former Employee of the Federal Government

Keep in mind that filing your California unemployment application via fax is considerably faster and more secure than submitting via post. 

California Unemployment Eligibility Requirements

Under normal circumstances, there are six conditions that you must fulfill to be considered eligible for unemployment benefits in California:

  • Totally or partially unemployed – This condition may be fulfilled whether your hours have been cut entirely, or they have been significantly reduced.
  • Unemployed through no fault of your own – Benefits are only available for those who have been laid off, furloughed, or when the company employing them closes doors. It is not available to those who have been terminated for transgressions on the job.
  • Physically able to work Unemployment insurance is designated for those who are physically fit to work. Those who are not should apply for Disability Insurance.
  • Available for work – You must be present in the U.S. with no prior obligations (providing care for a sick or disabled family member etc).
  • Ready and willing to accept work immediately The department will take measures to place you into a paid position as quickly as possible. You must be willing to accept a position should they find one suitable.
  • Actively looking for work You must provide proof that you are actively seeking a suitable paid position.

Exceptions To Eligibility Requirements

In light of the current crisis, eligibility requirements have loosened dramatically, meaning not all conditions above must be fulfilled to be granted assistance. If you are totally or partially unemployed due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and through no fault of your own, you will likely be deemed eligible for unemployment benefits. You will not be required to provide proof that you are actively seeking work, and you will not be placed into work via the department’s placement program. 

Federal Unemployment Assistance

In addition to unemployment relief made available by the state of California, the federal government will be offering assistance as well. On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability Act (commonly referred to as CARES Act) was signed into law in order to provide additional relief to those currently unemployed. The federal government has set aside $2.2 trillion to be divided up amongst the states and disbursed to unemployed citizens to the tune of $600 per week. To be clear, this is in addition to any amount already granted by the state. 

CARES Act Eligibility and Disbursement

Any individual who qualifies for unemployment assistance under California state law will be eligible to receive federal aid as well. Conveniently, there is no additional application process necessary to qualify for federal aid; once you have fulfilled all conditions of the state application, you are done. Funds will be made available to the state government, and disbursed through the same channel as state unemployment benefits (i.e. state-issued debit card).

CARES Act Timeline

One of the most helpful features of California unemployment benefits is that payments are retroactive; meaning that once you have qualified, you will be paid for the interim between now and when you last worked. Unfortunately, however, you are only eligible to continue receiving benefits for 26 weeks, at which time you would have to reapply. 

In light of the current pandemic, the federal government has added a couple of additional features to the CARE Act. First, anyone qualifying for state aid will be eligible to receive the added $600 federal grant for an additional 13 weeks once state aid has expired. In short, eligible applicants will receive $600 per week from the federal government for up to 39 weeks through December 31, 2020.

Federal Aid For The Self-Employed

Many workers, such as those who are self-employed or operate as independent contractors, are not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits under state law. However, there is a provision under the CARES act that allows these workers to receive benefits as well, provided their ability to work has been significantly impaired by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Those deemed eligible under this provision are as follows, according to the National Law Review:

  • An individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking diagnosis;
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • An individual is caring for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • An individual is the primary caregiver of a child or household member who is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed due to COVID-19;
  • An individual is unable to reach their place of employment due to an imposed quarantine or was advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
  • An individual was scheduled to commence new employment and does not have a job or cannot reach the job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • An individual became the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household died from COVID-19;
  • An individual has to quit a job as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • An individual’s place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19.

Additional Resource For Financial Support: Possible Finance

While state and local governments are going to great lengths to support unemployed citizens during this unprecedented era, there are additional covid financial support resources available in the private sector as well. It may behoove you to research organizations specific to your community or your profession, as grants are being made available to those in need. 

Possible Finance: For those who may need funds to put food on the table while awaiting government assistance, there are private institutions like Possible Finance willing to grant small loans with minimal eligibility requirements to help hold you and your family over in the interim. Be sure to explore all avenues to keep you and your family healthy and thriving. 


Employment Development Department of California. File An Unemployment Insurance Claim.

Employment Development Department of California. Eligibility Requirements.

National Law Review. CARES Act Expands Unemployment Benefits.

Chang Fu

Chang is an avid writer, among other things. He grew up loving reading and writing, creating his own poems and even a book he's now hidden in an old closet, unpublished. His financial experience at a large bank along with his passion for technology to help underserved communities inspired him to write for Possible.

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