California extending unemployment benefits: Here's who qualifies and how it works

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 is working to tell stories that build a better Bay Area. A big part of that is focusing on the economy and jobs. In February, before the pandemic, unemployment was at a record low in California 3.9%. On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said California's unemployment could peak at 24.5%.

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To help, the state is extending benefits.

California's Employment Development Department has processed 4.7 million claims in the past two months and more than $12 billion in benefits. That's almost 7 times as many claims as were filed in a 2-month period at the height of our last recession.

On Thursday, hundreds of people commented on the ABC7 Facebook page about their own unemployment claims. A top complaint - the inability to get through to the EDD on the phone.

EDD, deputy director, Loree Levy, was on ABC7's interactive newscast dedicated to getting answers to explain.

"We only have a couple thousand people, we've been redirecting people to assist us from throughout EDD, throughout state government, but to handle millions and millions of calls, we would need something like 20,000 more," she said. "So it's just unfortunate that there's just such a demand that we can't meet on the phone. But were doing a lot of different things to assist us with that. We're trying new technologies to assist with that, like a chat bot.... We're putting more and more people on our phone lines, who are getting additional training and can help people with more specific claim information. We continue to do massive hiring efforts, we continue to put in place some good self-help tools and video tutorials in five different languages, just so people can get some help."

On Thursday, the EDD shared big news about how they plan to implement a 13-week federal extension of unemployment benefits.

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"The extensions have been very difficult to implement," said EDD Director, Sharon Hilliard.

"What we're doing to make sure we roll them out as soon as possible, is we're doing them in two phases."

Phase 1 of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) starts May 27 for those who have exhausted their benefits with claims that started on or after June 2, 2019.

"You will receive a notice in the mail 5-7 days after we auto-file your claim for you, and it will talk about how to certify and other information, but I highly recommend you go your UI account for all updates," explained Hilliard.

Phase 2 of the PEUC starts in early July for those who ran out of their unemployment benefits after July 2018.

"For those of you in the second phase, I highly recommend that you go to UI online and apply for a new claim now," said Hilliard.

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On May 20, Phase 2 of a different program, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), launches for the self-employed, business owners, independent contractors, and others not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits.

"This allows you to go from the minimum of $167 from phase 1, potentially up to $450 per week. It does all depend on your 2019 income. You have had to have earned at least $17,368 for the increase."

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