The huge wave of unemployment insurance applications in California, generated by the number of jobs lost because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, is staggering.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the cases filed since March 13 reached 1 million.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, in an effort help people become better informed before filing their unemployment insurance application with the Employment Development Department, held a teleconference town hall on Wednesday to go over qualifications, eligibility, employee options and the filing process for unemployment insurance, state disability and the family leave program, and worker rights.
Jackson was joined by Assemblywoman Monique Limón, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal and a panel of attorneys — George Warner and Jenna Gerry of the nonprofit San Francisco firm Legal Aid at Work and Santa Barbara’s James Cordes — who specialize in employment issues.
“Our goal is to provide recourse and support for our workers who are affected by the COVID-19 virus and the conditions associated and created by it,” Jackson said of the purpose of the town hall. “We understand the need of urgency during this difficult time.
“The process may seem confusing right now and frustrating. Identifying the right programs you may be entitled to can be very hard to determine. We also know submitting the applications can be challenging given the extraordinary high volume of claims that are currently be presented and processed.”
She urged applicants to be persistent when contacting the Employment Development Department.
Limón said that the federal government’s $2 trillion economic stimulus bill will help boost the amount of benefits, which now range from $40 to $450 a week, depending on income.
“With the stimulus package, we hope that will increase by $600,” she said. “We’re really looking at our federal partners in order to improve the situation for folks here in California.”
Carbajal said: “The great news is of that $2 trillion, there’s estimated $260 billion in that package to help with unemployment insurance. It also extends an additional 13 weeks of benefits and makes it immediately available.”
Here is some valuable information the employment experts shared during the town hall:
Warner, a fellow with the Wage Protection Program at Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco, offered these tips about unemployment insurance:
» Apply for unemployment insurance if you think you might be eligible, even if you’re unsure on whether you’re eligible. Apply by phone, mail, fax or online at edd.ca.gov. Applying online will expedite the processing of a claim.
» Benefits normally last 26 weeks, and they’ll likely be extended to at least 39 weeks.
» Many people in California are paid as freelancers, 1099s or self-employed subcontractors. A lot of those workers under California law are employees. Even if you think of yourself as running your own business, or the company you work for says you’re an independent contractor, if you’re an employee under California law, the money you’ve been paid counts as wages and will count for unemployment benefits.
“Even if you’re a true independent contractor, I encourage you to apply for unemployment insurance benefits because it’s likely the federal government will be passing out some benefits called ‘Pandemic Employment Assistance’ to independent contractors and other workers who do not normally qualify for unemployment insurance,” Warner said. “You can get benefits if you’re a citizen, a permanent resident or you have an employment authorization document. If you’re entirely undocumented and you don’t have pending immigration petition from the federal government, you cannot get benefits.”
There are private funds set up to help the undocumented, and two of the larger funds are One Fair Wage and Restaurant Opportunities Center United.
Gerry, a senior staff attorney with Legal Aid at Work discussed paid family leave and state disability:
» State Disability Insurance and the State Family Leave Program allow a person to collect wage replacement benefits when they’re unable to work because of their own disability or because they’re caring for a family member who has a serous health condition. These programs are entirely employee funded, and as long as a person has been paying into the fund within the past year and hasa qualifying event, they’re eligible for benefits.
» The programs provide 60 percent to 70 percent of a person’s normal weekly pay, depending on income.
» If a person is unable to work because they’re diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to COVID-19, they should apply for State Disability Insurance benefits. EDD has waived the usual one-week waiting period for SDI. The person will receive benefits the entire time they’re out and up to 52 weeks.
» If a person is unable to work because they’re caring for an ill or quarantined family member because of COVID-19, they may qualify for Paid Family Leave. They can receive it up to six weeks and it will go up to eight weeks starting July 1.
» Both SDI and Paid Family Leave applications require a medical certification from a doctor. However, unlike unemployment insurance, citizenship and immigration status do not affect eligibility. If a person has been paying into those funds, they qualify.
» A person also qualifies if they’re recently terminated, laid off or quit. This is entirely employee funded and disconnected from the employer.
» The California Family Rights Act provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protective leave to care for their own or close family members with a health condition, including exposure to and diagnosis of COVID-19.
Cordes spoke about workers’ compensation for essential critical infrastructure workers.
The list of essential criticial infrastructure workers includes health care, public health, emergency services, food and agriculture, energy, water and waste water, transportation, logistics, communications, information and technology, government, critical manufacturing, hazardous material, financial service, chemical industry and the defense industrial base.
Workers’ compensation benefits are available if a person contracts the coronavirus. They include temporary disability payments and some wage replacement as well.