Starting Friday, the Employment Development Department will issue about 10,000 debit cards a day as it gradually replaces its check-writing system.
The program will be administered by Bank of America. Recipients can set up transfers to their bank accounts, withdraw cash from automatic teller machines or make purchases at merchants that accept Visa-branded cards.
The average weekly benefit in California is about $300. Officials say the switch will deliver cash faster and save at least $4 million a year in postage.
More than 2.1 million Californians are unemployed, yet many don't receive benefits because they did not pay into the unemployment insurance program or exhausted their benefits.