Pandemic Unemployment Assistance FAQs

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COVID-19 FAQs

The following information provides you general guidance on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. We encourage you to apply for benefits and the EDD will determine your eligibility.

Eligibility

You may qualify for PUA benefits if you are unemployed, partially unemployed, unable to work, or unavailable to work due to a COVID-19-related reason and you meet one of the following:

  • You are a business owner, self-employed worker, independent contractor, or gig worker and are not participating in the UI Elective Coverage program. You will be able to indicate if you have no employment wages (for example, you did not receive a W-2), to apply for the PUA program (which cannot be used for any other purpose). However, you can file a regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim if you believe you were misclassified and have wages from an employer.
  • You don’t have sufficient work history. This generally means you don’t have enough wages reported as an employee during the last 18 months for a regular UI claim. This could be the case if you are self-employed or an independent contractor, or if you are an employee with insufficient earnings. To qualify for PUA based on insufficient work history, you must have been recently employed, which could be satisfied if you had an offer to start working on a specific date but were unable to start due to a COVID-19-related reason.

If you already filed a PUA claim because you used all the benefits on your UI claim, we will stop your PUA claim as of March 29 and will transfer you automatically to a Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claim.

COVID-19 related reasons for being out of work include the following:

  • 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.

UI Online is the EDD’s application portal for both regular UI and PUA claims.  All applicants will be asked the same basic questions, including about employment history and earnings information, along with some new questions needed to determine PUA eligibility. Based on your responses as well as wage information reported to the EDD, the EDD will determine if your claim is processed as a regular UI claim or a PUA claim.

You may be eligible for more than the minimum weekly benefit amount of $167 if your annual income for 2019 that you report on your PUA application meets a minimum threshold. You will be required to substantiate that income if requested by the EDD. If you earned at or below this amount you will remain at $167 per week. If you are entitled to more than the minimum, that higher amount will also apply retroactively to any weeks of the minimum $167 per week in PUA benefits that you receive.

The federal CARES Act, which created the PUA program, requires that an individual may only receive PUA benefits if they are not eligible for regular or extended UI benefits or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits. This includes individuals who have exhausted all rights to such benefits, self-employed individuals, independent contractors, or those who have insufficient work history.

Generally, if you have enough employee earnings (e.g., W-2 wages) that have been reported to EDD by an employer, you would be eligible for regular UI benefits (plus any additional or extended UI benefits, such as the $600 weekly benefit provided under the CARES Act). Because the existence of sufficient employee wages would make you eligible for regular UI, under federal law, you would not be eligible for PUA.

But if your earnings as an employee are minimal, you will likely not qualify for UI, which means you would then be eligible for PUA if you have a COVID-19 reason for being unemployed.

No, if EDD has wages reported from an employer over the last 18 months that would qualify you for a regular UI claim, then the EDD is required by law to proceed with a regular UI claim for you. 

You may be eligible to receive federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. The PUA program helps individuals who are not eligible for regular state UI benefits and who are unemployed, partially unemployed, unable to work, or unavailable to work as a direct result of a COVID-19 related reason.  This includes individuals who cannot collect regular UI benefits because they are serving penalty weeks or were found ineligible for benefits due to certain legal reasons.

For example, you may be eligible for PUA benefits if your unemployment is directly related to COVID-19, and you are ineligible for traditional UI benefits because you are serving penalty weeks or because you quit or were fired from a previous job.

Yes, PUA benefits are available if you work part-time and are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work because of a COVID-19-related reason. Based on your past earnings, you may qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. Apply for UI and we will let you know if you qualify for UI or for PUA.

If you were scheduled to start or return to a summer job, but the job offer was cancelled due to COVID-19, you may be eligible for PUA. But, if you are not able to search for or get a job due to COVID-19, you do not qualify for PUA unless you are unemployed due to another COVID-19-related reason.

Application Process

In order to provide benefits as quickly as possible, payments will be issued in phases. If you qualify for PUA the initial payments you will receive are as follows:

  • $167.00 per week, for each week from February 2, 2020 to March 28, 2020 that you were unemployed due to a COVID-19 related reason.
  • $167.00 plus $600 per week, for each week from March 29, 2020 to July 25, 2020, that you are unemployed due to a COVID-19 related reason.
  • $167.00 per week, for each week from July 26, 2020 to December 26, 2020, that you are unemployed due to a COVID-19 related reason, up to a total of 39 weeks (minus any weeks of regular UI and certain extended UI benefits that you have received).

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. You will be required to provide the EDD eligibility information every two weeks. This is known as certifying for benefits.

After these initial payments, depending on your prior earnings, your weekly amount of $167.00 per week may be increased. You will have an opportunity to certify your prior income on your PUA application. The EDD is working to establish efficient procedures to determine if an increase to the weekly PUA amount will be appropriate after an individual receives the initial weekly amount. In addition to applying to future benefits, any increase from the $167 amount also applies retroactively. This means that you may also receive payment to make up the difference you should have been paid if your benefits had initially been based on the increased amount. You will be notified of any increase that you are entitled to receive.

Example: If you apply for PUA on April 28, the first day it will be available, and you certify you were unemployed due to COVID-19 since March 8, you have been unemployed for seven full weeks. If you meet the COVID-19-related criteria for PUA, we will calculate your amount as follows—

March 8 to March 28 = 3 weeks x $167/week = $501
March 29 to April 25 = 4 weeks x $167/week (with extra $600) = $3,068

TOTAL: $3,569 (from March 8 to April 25)

You can file a PUA claim through UI OnlineSM, just as you would for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.

If you are self-employed, an independent contractor, or someone who may otherwise qualify for PUA, and you already filed for UI benefits (before April 28 when the PUA application is available), please read this information carefully to ensure you get the right benefits as quickly as possible:

  • If you have employee wages reported (e.g., as reported by an employer on a W-2) for the prior 18 months, and the amount of wages you earned qualifies you for a regular UI claim, then you do not qualify for PUA. You should follow the EDD's instructions as they relate to the UI claim that you already filed.
  • If you have already received regular UI benefits and you still have a balance on your UI claim, you do not qualify for PUA at this time. Please follow these instructions to continue to get UI benefits.
  • If you are still subject to penalty weeks on your regular UI claim, do NOT apply for PUA on April 28 (refer to questions, Why should people who have penalty weeks get access to benefits? and I’ve heard that UI benefits are only counted beginning on the day after I apply. If I’ve been unemployed since March, and I apply for unemployment benefits in April, can I get UI benefits back to the period since I became unemployed?. You will receive information about how to access PUA benefits on or about May 2, when the EDD will mail notices to individuals who have penalty weeks or disqualifications. Please wait for that notice which will provide you information that you will need to respond to within 10 days of this mailed notice in order to determine your eligibility for PUA benefits. PUA benefits will not be paid unless you return the notice and we verify that you qualify for a PUA claim.
  • If you do not have employee wages for the past 18 months (self-employed or an independent contractor), you may apply for PUA on April 28 or after. You do not need to cancel your existing UI claim. You do not need to call the EDD about the prior UI claim you filed where you may have received either a notice from EDD indicating a $0 award amount, or a notice of disqualification. If you believe the $0 UI award amount or disqualification notice was in error and that you did receive wages as an employee that would qualify you for UI (for example, refer to How much would I receive in PUA benefits?), you have the right to appeal within 30 days. If you appeal the EDD notice about your UI claim, then do not apply for PUA.
  • If you are eligible for PUA, you will receive PUA payments on an EDD Debit CardSM. If approved for PUA and after certifying for benefits, you may be able to receive your first PUA payment within approximately two days of your application if you have an existing EDD Debit Card (and there are no issues that require a further review of eligibility), and within four to seven days when new debit cards and checks are mailed.

It is important to note that if you qualify for a regular UI claim (for example, refer to I am already receiving regular unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Can I choose to switch over to PUA benefits if I want to identify myself as an independent contractor or as self-employed?), then you may not file a PUA claim. However, you should look out for the following notices:

  • If you receive a specific notice called the Notice of Status of Wages (this is different from the Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award that tells you your weekly and maximum benefit amounts), indicating that you do not have sufficient earnings to qualify for regular UI, then you may apply for PUA by filing a new claim through UI Online beginning April 28. If you appeal the Notice of Status of Wages on your regular UI claim, then you should not apply for PUA.
  • If you receive a Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award showing $0 in benefits, and you know that you are self-employed or an independent contractor so you do not appeal this decision on your UI claim, then you may apply for PUA by filing a new claim through UI Online beginning April 28.

When you apply for PUA, you will be asked for your total income received in calendar year 2019. The income you report may be used to increase your PUA weekly benefit amount from the minimum amount of $167 up to $450, based on your income (regardless of the amount of income you report, you will receive an additional $600 with your PUA weekly benefit amount, for weeks you were out of work due to COVID-19 from March 29, 2020 to July 25, 2020). If you are self-employed or an independent contractor, the law requires that the EDD look at your net income, total after taxes, to determine your PUA weekly benefit amount.

No, you do not need to submit any documents to the EDD with your PUA application. You will enter your total income for the 2019 Calendar Year on the application. Initially, this will be used to pay the minimum benefits of $167 per week plus $600 per week from March 29 to July 25. If the income information you provide indicates that you meet an annual earnings threshold of $17,368 or more, the EDD will work as quickly as possible to verify your income using other resources available to the Department in order to increase your PUA weekly benefit amount. If additional information is needed, the EDD will contact you.

When you apply for PUA benefits on UI Online, list the actual date of unemployment that directly resulted from COVID-19. The EDD will assess your eligibility for regular UI and PUA. If you qualify for PUA, your claim will begin effective the week when you became unemployed. If you apply for regular UI benefits, you will need to contact the EDD to request that the effective date for your claim be changed to the week when you became unemployed. In addition, the $600 per week in additional unemployment benefits that is available from March 29 through July 25, 2020, is also available even if you apply after March 29.

The EDD will inform you of the documents you can submit.  In general, you may submit items such as an annual tax return, 1099 forms, W-2s, pay stubs, or other documents that show your income.

There are several COVID-19 related reasons that may apply to this situation under the PUA program, but the most likely one is that your place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. This reason applies when a business is shut down due to an emergency declaration or due to necessary social distancing protocols, such as a shelter-in-place or stay-home order, where the unemployment of individuals who worked in the business would be considered a direct result of COVID-19. This would also apply if the business is open or partially re-opened, but your position is not needed due to COVID-19 limitations on the business.

Another reason that may apply to you, depending on your circumstances, is that you are unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. This would apply if you can’t reach your workplace because of a state or municipal order restricting travel that was instituted to combat the spread of COVID-19, such as a shelter-in-place or stay-home order. Select the reason that best fits your situation, as the PUA program requires you to self-certify that you fall into one or more of these categories under penalty of perjury. If you already certified based on another reason and are receiving benefits, you do not need to re-submit the form to certify using a different reason for being unemployed due to COVID-19. These are just examples, they are not requirements.

Claims

If you filed for UI and received an award notice (which shows your weekly and maximum benefits amounts) indicating $0 in benefits available, it could be because of one of three scenarios:

  1. We could not verify your identity with our records. You will receive by mail instructions on how to verify your identity. You have 10 calendar days from the mail date to send us two different identity documents from the list of Acceptable Documents for Identity Verification (DE 1326CD) (PDF). Once we verify your identity, you’ll receive a new notice telling you what our wage records show for weekly UI benefit payments if you meet all other eligibility requirements.
  2. You were misclassified by your employer as an independent contractor (instead of an employee) or your employer may have inadvertently reported your wage information incorrectly to the EDD. If you believe our record of your employment wages isn’t accurate, you may provide us with a brief summary of why you disagree with the notice and information about your wages, and request that we investigate your case.  We will follow up to obtain any details or documentation needed to make a determination.
  3. You’re self-employed or an independent contractor and have not paid contributions to the state Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. As part of the federal CARES Act, the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program helps unemployed Californians who are usually not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits and are unemployed or partially unemployed for reasons directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including business owners, the self-employed and those with limited recent work history.

  4. Note: If you are one of the workers under #3 above (self-employed or independent contractor) who received the $0 benefit award notice, and you have not requested a wage investigation as described in #2 above, then you may apply for PUA by filing a new claim through UI Online beginning April 28.

If you believe you should be considered an employee but the EDD’s wage investigation concluded there weren’t sufficient earnings reported to substantiate a regular UI claim, then you will receive a form called a Notice of Status of Wages (this is different from a $0 benefit award notice). The Notice of Status of Wages indicates that you do not qualify for regular UI, and you may apply for PUA by filing a new claim through UI Online beginning April 28. If you believe the Notice of Status of Wages was in error, you have the right to appeal within 30 days. But if you appeal, then you should not apply for PUA.

Penalty Weeks

If you intentionally give false information or withhold information to receive benefits, we will assess a false statement disqualification. You may have to serve penalty weeks where you cannot receive regular UI benefits during this time.

Beginning on April 28, 2020, you may be eligible for PUA.

If you became unemployed or partially unemployed on or after January 27, 2020, have an active UI claim, and are serving penalty weeks after February 2, 2020, the EDD has begun a PUA claim for you because you were ineligible for regular UI during that time period and may be eligible for PUA. You should not reapply for regular UI or apply for PUA. The benefits of filing this claim for you is that you may be eligible to receive PUA benefits during these difficult economic times where you otherwise would not receive benefits on your regular UI claim.

If you are in this situation, you will be mailed a Notice of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Award as early as May 2, 2020, with more information about the PUA program and how to receive these benefits, and a separate Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Self-Certification form. You should look out for these two different documents in the mail. On the self-certification form, you must indicate whether you were unemployed, partially unemployed, unable to work, or unavailable to work due to a COVID-19 related reason.

To receive benefits on the PUA claim, you must return the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Self-Certification within 10 days of the date the form was mailed to you.

If you are found eligible for PUA, you may receive PUA benefits dating back to the weeks after February 2, 2020 when you were disqualified from receiving your regular UI benefits, as long as your unemployment during that time period was due to COVID-19. You may continue to receive PUA benefits for up to a total of 39 weeks (minus the weeks that you previously received regular UI benefits and certain extensions on those benefits). This will also include the additional $600 weekly payment provided under the CARES Act for the weeks you qualify for PUA benefits from March 29, 2020 through July 25, 2020. All payments required to be paid by the claimant, including UI overpayments and penalties associated with UI overpayments, still need to be paid but will not be taken out of PUA benefits. If your UI overpayments were deducted from PUA benefits, the EDD is correcting this and you will be credited for the overpayments that were taken from your PUA benefits. However, if you have an outstanding overpayment on a prior Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) claim, your PUA payments will be reduced by 50 percent as necessary to repay the DUA overpayment.

Note: If you are unemployed due to COVID-19 and have not applied for UI benefits but know you are required to serve penalty weeks, follow the normal benefits application process through UI Online and complete the PUA self-certification, which is part of the UI Online claim filing application.

If you do not want to receive benefits on a PUA claim, you can contact the EDD to reopen your regular UI claim and discontinue your PUA claim. You can do this by writing on one of the notices you receive from EDD that you want to discontinue the PUA claim and mailing it to the address on the notice. The EDD will follow up with you if more information is needed. If you do this, you will be required to finish serving your penalty weeks before receiving any UI. In addition, please be aware that if you did not return the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Self-Certification form to the EDD, attesting that you are unemployed due to a COVID-19 reason, then you will not be eligible to receive PUA benefits and will automatically be returned to your regular UI claim where you will have to finish serving your penalty weeks before you receive any benefits on your regular UI claim.

Yes, if you completed serving a false statement penalty disqualification on your regular UI claim during the time period from February 2, 2020 to May 13, 2020, you are potentially eligible to receive a retroactive payment of benefits under the PUA program. You may receive PUA benefits dating back to the weeks after February 2, 2020 when you were serving your regular UI penalty weeks, as long as you were unemployed, partially unemployed, unable to work, or unavailable to work due to a COVID-19 related reason during that time period. This will also include the additional $600 weekly payment provided under the CARES Act for the weeks starting on or after March 29, 2020 in which you are eligible for the retroactive PUA benefits. If you have an outstanding overpayment on a prior Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) claim, your PUA retroactive payment amount will be reduced by 50 percent as necessary to repay the DUA overpayment.

The EDD will mail you a PUA Retroactive Payment Option and Self-Certification form describing how to receive a retroactive PUA payment for the weeks when you served your UI penalty between February 2 to May 13. Any full weeks of penalty service will remain credited to you on your UI claim. In order to receive the retroactive PUA payment, you must return the PUA Retroactive Payment Option and Self-Certification form to the EDD, attesting that you were unemployed due to a COVID-19 reason. Other than this retroactive PUA payment, you will continue to receive benefits on your regular UI claim.

If you were not unemployed due to a COVID-19 related reason permitted under the federal PUA program requirements while you were serving your penalty weeks, then you will not qualify for a retroactive PUA payment.

The EDD has provided information and notices about potential eligibility for PUA benefits to individuals who became unemployed on or after January 27, 2020 (the date that PUA benefits first became available under federal law), but who were disqualified from receiving regular UI benefits because they were serving out a UI penalty. Due to the date these individuals became unemployed, they are more likely to have been unemployed because of one of the COVID-19 reasons under the CARES Act, and thus are potentially eligible for PUA benefits.

No, the penalty weeks remain on the regular UI claim and are only temporarily suspended while you are collecting PUA benefits. Once your PUA benefits are exhausted or you are no longer unemployed for a COVID-19 reason, and you remain unemployed or partially unemployed, depending on your situation you may be returned to your regular UI claim, you may be eligible to file a new regular UI claim, or you may be eligible to file a Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation extension, where you will have to finish serving your penalty weeks before you receive any benefits.

Even people who have paid back all of their overpayments and paid any penalties owed may have penalty weeks remaining that make them ineligible for UI for a period of time of up to three years. PUA is available for not only the self-employed and independent contractors but also for other individuals who are ineligible for UI. Those serving penalty weeks fall into that category.