Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

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COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Refer to our Pandemic Unemployment Assistance FAQs for general guidance on the PUA program.

As part of the federal CARES Act, the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program helps unemployed Californians who are business owners, self-employed, independent contractors, have limited work history, and others not usually eligible for regular state UI benefits who are out of business or services are significantly reduced as a direct result of the pandemic. The provisions of the program include:

  • Up to 39 weeks of benefits starting with weeks of unemployment beginning February 2, 2020, through the week ending December 26, 2020, depending on when you became directly impacted by the pandemic.
  • A new 13-week federal extension for those who run out of their regular state-provided UI benefits (maximum 26 weeks). File a PUA claim and you may be converted to the federal extension once it is available.

The PUA benefits are payable if you don’t qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits in California or another state and also do not qualify for state Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave benefits. This includes:

  • Business owners
  • Self-employed individuals
  • Independent contractors

You can also be eligible if you qualified for regular UI benefits, but have already collected all of those benefits.

If you are not a US citizen, you can only be paid PUA benefits if you were legally working in the US when you were affected by COVID-19. You can only claim benefits for the weeks that you were legally allowed to work.

You must also meet one of the following criteria:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • You are unable to work because a health care provider advised you to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You are providing care for a family member or a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • A child or other person in the household for whom you have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 and the school or facility care is required for you to work.
  • You became the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • You have to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • You were scheduled to start a job that is now unavailable as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You are unable to reach the place of employment as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • If you work as an independent contractor with reportable income, you may also qualify for PUA benefits if you are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work because the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited your ability to continue performing your customary work activities, and has thereby forced you to stop working.

How to File a Claim

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

If you qualify for a regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim, you should not file a PUA claim at this time. If you filed for UI and received an award notice indicating $0 in benefits available, visit PUA FAQs for what to do next.

The fastest way to apply for benefits is through UI OnlineSM. You can also apply for PUA by phone, mail, or fax.

You will need the following information:

Proof of Citizenship

You must be authorized to work in the US to receive benefits. If you are not a US citizen, have information from your employment authorization ready.

Information About Your Employment History 

Your employment history affects the amount of benefits you receive each week. Submitting accurate information helps us process your claim faster. You will need:

  • Employment history from the last 18 months, including the name of the company or companies as they appear on your paycheck, the dates of employment, hours worked per week, gross wages earned, hourly rate of pay, and the reason you are no longer working.
  • Specific information from your last employer or company, including mailing address, phone number, supervisor’s name, total gross wages for the last week you worked, and the reason for your change in employment.

Federal and Military Documents

  • If you are a former federal employee, have your Notice to Federal Employees About Unemployment Insurance (Standard Form 8) ready.
  • If you served in the military in the last 18 months, have your Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD 214) ready.

After you have filed, refer to our step-by-step UI claims process. You’ll learn what to expect and the actions you need to take through the course of your claim for receiving benefit payments as long as you’re eligible.

Benefit Payments


You will be required to “certify” for your benefit payments. Certifying is the process of answering basic questions every two weeks that tells us you’re still unemployed and otherwise eligible to continue receiving biweekly payments.

Typically, it will take about a week after you certify before you receive your first benefit payment. If you are eligible for benefits, you may receive your first PUA payment in about two days if you have an existing EDD Debit CardSM (and there are no issues that require a further review of eligibility). New debit cards and checks are mailed within four to seven days. Once you activate the card you can track, use, and transfer your benefit payments.

Payment Phases

In order to provide benefits as quickly as possible, payments will be issued in phases. If you qualify for PUA, and depending on the effective date of your PUA claim, the minimum payments you will receive are as follows:

Phase 1: February 2 to March 28, 2020

$167 per week for each week you were unemployed due to COVID-19.

Phase 2: March 29 to July 25, 2020

$167 plus $600 per week for each week you are unemployed due to COVID-19.

Phase 3: July 26 to December 26, 2020

$167 per week, for each week that you are unemployed due to COVID-19.

Based on your claim date, you can get PUA benefits for up to a total of 39 weeks (minus any state UI benefits you received).

Payment Increases

We are now recalculating benefit payments based on your total income for 2019. If you earned more than $17,368 last year, we will automatically increase your weekly benefit payments (currently $167).

If you qualify, there is nothing you need to do with your claim. You will receive a notice in the mail 5-7 days after we make the benefit adjustment. You will be back paid to make up the difference from the start of your PUA claim.

The maximum for PUA benefits is $450 per week. To qualify, your net self-employment income for 2019 needs to be more than $46,696.

Note: An additional $600 will be added to each PUA weekly benefit amount as part of the separate CARES Act Pandemic Additional Compensation program. Only the weeks of a claim between March 29 and July 25 are eligible for the extra $600 payments. Under the CARES Act of 2020, the $600 additional benefits are available through July 31, 2020. However, the US Department of Labor has issued guidance to clarify that, for most Californians, the last full week of benefits will end on July 25, 2020. Similarly, the PUA program has a legislative end date of December 31, 2020, but for Californians, the last full week of benefits will end on December 26, 2020.

Your Claim Date

Benefits can be back paid to weeks starting on or after February 2, 2020, based on your last day of work due to COVID-19, no matter when you submitted your claim application. The effective date of your claim will begin the Sunday of the week when you last worked and became unemployed due to reasons directly related to COVID-19.

Note: If you qualify for your claim to be backdated to an earlier PUA effective date based on your last day of work, you could receive payment for prior weeks you were unemployed due to COVID-19.

Additional Resources