Amount and Duration of Unemployment Compensation in California

Learn how much you can receive in unemployment benefits in California, how long the payments may last, and the expansion of benefits available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By , J.D. | Updated By E.A. Gjelten, Legal Editor

If you've lost your job and meet the eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits in California, the amount you can receive will depend on your earnings during a certain three-month period before you filed your claim. Normally, benefits last for up to 26 weeks, but that time limit has been extended during the coronavirus pandemic. This article explains those current time limits and how your benefit amount is calculated.

Extended Unemployment Benefits in California During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The federal The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which became law on March 27, 2020, significantly expanded unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, the CARES Act provides up to 13 extra weeks of unemployment benefits through the end of 2020, as well as an additional $600 per week on top of state benefits through the week ending July 25, 2020 (in California).

On July 1, 2020, the California Employment Development Department (EDD) announced that further extensions of unemployment benefits had become available in the state. Californians may now qualify for an extension known as the Federal-State Extended Duration benefits program (FED-ED), which usually provides 13 additional weeks of benefits during times of high or prolonged unemployment. But California has added an extra seven weeks beyond that. Added to the regular California unemployment benefits (up to 26 weeks) and the 13-week extension under the CARES Act, that means that you could potentially receive benefits for up to 59 weeks total if you qualify for the FED-ED benefits.

If you don't qualify under the FED-ED program, you might be eligible for a total of up to 46 weeks of benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program in the CARES Act, which provides unemployment benefits for some individuals who wouldn't otherwise qualify, such as self-employed workers and those who don't have enough work history. For more information, see the EDD's Coronavirus FAQ page.

How California Calculates Unemployment Benefit Amounts

Your earnings during what's known as the "base period" will determine both your eligibility for unemployment benefits and the weekly amount you'll receive. The base period is usually the earliest four of the five full calendar quarters that come before you filed your claim. (For instance, the base year would be April 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020, for claims filed in July 2020.)

The EDD will compute your weekly benefit amount based on your total wages during the quarter in your base period when you earned the most. For all but very low-wage workers, the weekly benefit amount is arrive at by dividing those total wages by 26—up to a maximum of $450 per week. For instance, if you earned a total of $6,000 during the highest quarter in your base period, you would receive $231 per week in benefits. If your highest-quarter wages were more than $11,674, you would receive the maximum $450 (not including the extra amount available under the CARES Act, as discussed above).

You can use the EDD's unemployment insurance calculator to see figure your weekly benefit amount.

What Happens After You File a Claim for California Unemployment Benefits

You may file your claim for unemployment benefits online, by phone, by fax, or by mail. Contact information, online filing, and instructions are available on the EDD site.

Once it receives your application, the EDD will send you some documents, including a Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award indicating how much you will receive if you are found eligible for benefits (despite the title of this notice, it does not mean you have qualified for benefits yet).

If you were fired or quit your job, the EDD may schedule a telephone interview to determine your eligibility for benefits. If you are found eligible, the EDD will begin sending you your benefits checks and claim forms, which you will receive (and must return) every two weeks.

If your claim for unemployment is denied, you will receive a Notice of Determination informing you of the decision. You have the right to appeal the decision. For details, see our article on how to appeal an unemployment denial in California.

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