Expanded unemployment benefits are ending. Here’s where else to find help
Still, the change is going to sting. According to the state Employment Development Department, the programs were providing well over $1 billion in aid to about 2.2 million Californians as of late August, including $839 million for gig workers, the self-employed and other people not eligible for conventional unemployment benefits. That money evaporates Saturday. So does the additional $300 per week the federal government has been paying to about 500,000 idled California workers covered by traditional unemployment insurance.
Then on Sept. 11, the federal government will stop offering the 13- to 20-week extension of unemployment benefits it had been providing throughout the pandemic. At that point, idled workers will be eligible for a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits; workers who’ve already received more than 26 weeks of benefits will be cut off.
Other benefit programs that expanded during the pandemic are still available for financially struggling Californians, however. Here are some tips for how to navigate the weeks ahead.
Which programs are ending?
As of Saturday, the federal government will pay no new claims in four programs launched during the pandemic to help people who lost work:
- Pandemic Additional Compensation (also known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation), which added $300 per week to jobless workers’ benefits.
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provided up to 86 weeks of benefits to workers in fields not covered by the standard unemployment insurance program.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which offered up to 53 additional weeks of aid to workers who used up their 26 weeks of standard benefits but were still unable to find a job.
- Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, which added $100 to the standard unemployment benefits earned by people who held jobs but also made money through self-employment the previous year.
All of those programs pay benefits retroactively, however. So if you were laid off or lost gig work during the pandemic but hadn’t filed a claim yet, or if your claim has yet to be processed by the EDD, you can still receive benefits in a lump sum after this week.
For weeks of work missed after this one, though, the benefits will be available only to people covered by the standard unemployment insurance program — in other words, not self-employed or gig workers — and will be limited to the state’s normal amount, which is $40 to $450 per week.
Angelenos who lost income in the pandemic can apply again for help paying the rent debt they’ve accrued. Landlords can apply too.
What other help is available?
The hopeful news is that California is adding jobs and increasing its demand for goods and services, although the state’s unemployment rate remains significantly higher than the national average and hasn’t fallen much since May. The job losses have been worse for people of color, especially Black Californians, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. The Delta variant of the coronavirus also has been a drag on the recovery lately.
In the meantime, the federal government has increased the benefit levels in a number of programs for people in need, and the feds and California have expanded eligibility for several forms of aid and streamlined the process of obtaining help. A good starting point is BenefitsCal, a site where you can sign up for food, health, unemployment and welfare benefits.
Food: CalFresh, the state’s food aid program, offers 15% more in benefits through Sept. 30 to low-income households. In addition, work requirements for college students have been eased dramatically (but temporarily), opening the program to far more young California adults. To apply, go to GetCalFresh.org.
Rent: California offers to pay 100% of the rent debt accumulated since April 2020 by low- and moderate-income residents who suffered pandemic-related financial hardship, whether it be lost wages or higher expenses. The program, which is available across much of the state, can also pay up to three months of future rent and up to 12 months of unpaid utility bills. You can apply by calling (833) 430-2122 or visiting the Housing Is Key site, which also provides links to the separate rental assistance programs run by Long Beach and several other cities.
The Caldor fire has destroyed more than 600 homes and threatens more than 32,000 structures as it moves toward the Nevada state line.
Healthcare: For idled workers whose incomes aren’t low enough to qualify for health coverage through Medi-Cal, Covered California (the state’s Affordable Care Act insurance program) offers extra premium support that can bring the cost of coverage down to $1 per person per month. You can apply at the Covered California site or by calling (800) 300-1506. If you were enrolled before you went on unemployment, you may qualify for lower premiums.
Stimulus checks: The state began sending $600 to $1,100 Golden State Stimulus payments this week to Californians who earned up to $75,000 in 2020. This is the second wave of stimulus checks; the first, which started going out in April, reached taxpayers with Social Security numbers who earned $30,000 or less, as well as those with individual taxpayer identification numbers (such as noncitizens) who earned up to $75,000.
The checks are available only to people who’ve filed state tax returns for 2020, so if you haven’t done that yet, you have until Oct. 15 to do so and still qualify for the stimulus. If you’re an individual taxpayer with a Social Security number who did not receive a payment in the first round, you’re eligible for $600 if you have no dependents, $1,100 if you have one or more. If you have a taxpayer ID number, earn $75,000 or less and have at least one dependent, you are eligible for $1,000.
To find out if you are eligible and to estimate how much you can receive, go to the Franchise Tax Board’s Golden State Stimulus II site.