Big Picture Changes to Unemployment Insurance, Related Benefits under CARES Act

This brief summarizes unemployment benefits available in California, as updated by the federal CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 25, 2020.

The CARES Act made sweeping changes and added new benefits to the program, so during the near-term the state Employment Development Department (EDD) will interpret these changes and implement them to provide the new benefits.

New Benefit Amount

In addition to the normal unemployment insurance (UI) payments (up to $450/week, depending on salary), applicants may receive up to an additional $600/week until July 31, 2020—meaning that workers may receive up to 100% wage replacement. However, EDD’s outdated internal data processing system may hinder its ability to timely change the benefits calculations. As a result, it is unclear when EDD will begin distributing the additional $600/week provided for in the CARES Act.

Eligibility for Benefits

Eligibility depends on the type of benefits. Broadly speaking, traditional requirements of UI have been loosened, but still apply: you must be able/available to work, and unable to do so through no fault of your own. EDD’s website can help clarify these limitations. Notably, employees who are facing reduced hours or being unable to work because their employer has shut down due to COVID-19 will qualify for UI.

New Categories of Benefits

New categories of benefits have been added under the CARES Act to provide for self-employed individuals and other groups, as well as those who have exhausted traditional UI:

  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation: These benefits are available for those who were otherwise eligible for traditional UI benefits, but will extend them for 13 weeks after traditional UI has been exhausted, with equivalent benefits. These are federally-funded and can be used before California’s Extended Benefits program, which saves California’s employers from picking up the tab.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: This supports individuals who do not traditionally qualify for UI, such as independent contractors, or self-employed individuals, or those who have otherwise exhausted benefits. It provides benefits equivalent to UI, and includes the additional $600/week provided for under the CARES Act.

Duration of Benefits

Generally speaking, UI benefits last 26 weeks, with additional programs potentially extending that period—such as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and/or Extended Benefits, both of which add up to 13 weeks of benefits. Similarly, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance lasts 39 weeks.

How Long Until Benefits Received?

Though both the Governor and the federal legislation waived the one week waiting period, EDD still takes time to process applications. This means that, even after applying, a recipient will likely not receive a check for at least 3 weeks. Any delayed payment will include compensation retroactive to the time of application—including that first week.

What If I Am Sick with COVID-19?

If an employee is unable to work due to exposure or being sick with COVID-19, and has had a positive test/other confirming documents, then the employee may be eligible for Disability Insurance (DI). DI also normally has a one-week waiting period, which has also been waived.

Helpful Resources

File for benefits at EDD’s website:

For EDD’s actions in response to COVID-19 (including discussion of Disability Insurance, Paid Family Leave, Unemployment):

Staff Contact: Robert Moutrie

Robert Moutrie
Robert Moutrie joined the California Chamber of Commerce in March 2019 as a policy advocate and was named a senior policy advocate starting January 1, 2024 in recognition of his efforts on behalf of members. He leads CalChamber advocacy on occupational safety, tourism, unemployment insurance and immigration. Moutrie has represented clients on matters such as consumer fraud litigation, civil rights, employment law claims, tort claims, and other business-related issues in federal and state courts. He previously served as an associate attorney at the Oakland-based firm of Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson. Moutrie earned a B.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. with honors from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. See full bio.