How to Apply For Unemployment Benefits in California

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With so many Californians out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment claims are surging. More than a million applications for unemployment benefits have been filed in California since March 13, 2020.

Workers who have been laid off or had their hours reduced because of the coronavirus may be eligible to apply for expanded unemployment benefits. California has relaxed qualification guidelines so that more people who are out of work can benefit. In addition, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, provides extra unemployment funds for affected workers, up to $600 per week.

Individuals should apply for unemployment benefits immediately after their jobs or hours are cut. The standard “waiting week” usually in effect under regular circumstances has been waived. Unemployment benefits will only pay a percentage of regular wages, between $40 and $450 per week. The $600 payment provided by the federal CARES Act should help bridge the gap between unemployment benefits and regular wages.

The quickest way to apply for unemployment benefits in California is online. Go to: to access the application or mail/fax a paper application to the Employment Development Department. Phone applications are available too but not recommended as extremely long wait times are common.

To streamline the application process, have the following information available before applying:

  • Social Security Number
  • Driver’s license or ID card number
  • Alien registration number and expiration date if a non-citizen
  • DD Form 214 if you served in the military in the last 18 months
  • Name/Address/Phone number of last employer
  • Supervisor’s name
  • Reason for working reduced hours or no longer working with the employer
  • Employment History (ALL employers in the last 18 months including the last employer)
  • Wages earned and how you were paid (hourly, weekly, monthly)

It is important to remember that the unemployment benefits system is extremely overwhelmed by the number of applications and that benefits may be delayed. Eligible workers will be paid from the first date of lost or reduced wages, possibly all at once when benefits are finally distributed.

If an individual attempts to call the Employment Development Department about unemployment benefits and cannot connect for more than five business days, their claim may be backdated to when they first started calling as long as they keep proof of calls, such as a screenshot of their call log.