SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Amid the coronavirus crisis, so many have questions about how to get unemployment benefits. California is seeing "unprecedented" numbers during the pandemic with roughly 4.6 million residents filing for unemployment since March 12, according to the latest projections by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
During the course of two interviews with ABC7, Loree Levy with California's Employment Development Department revealed some good news: the 13-week extension under the federal CARES Act for those who've already used the maximum benefits during a 12 months period will roll out at the end of this month.
Levy also answered many of our viewers' questions about how to file for unemployment and navigate the overloaded system.
EDD website crashing? This is the best time to log on
So many Californians are trying to file for unemployment or PUA assistance, the website has been getting glitchy. Levy says the best time to try submitting your claim is before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m., when website traffic is lower.
Can't get through on the phone?
The EDD has hired 1,800 people to try and keep up with the high volume of work and inquiries.
"The way that we're funded for the unemployment insurance program is funding is low when unemployment is low, like it was - it was at a record low just a couple months ago in February and suddenly we had this massive surge," Levy said.
Typically it takes six months to get a new hire fully trained to handle all questions, but given the urgency of the situation, Levy says trainees are taking calls and answering basic questions after just a few days of training.
Long hold times
In terms of reaching the EDD's call center, long wait times to reach a representative are not uncommon.
"It's much more difficult than we would like it to be," Levy said. "We are working extremely long and exhaustive hours because we do care so much about trying to get people information in the midst of this truly historic event."
Levy said it comes down to the math. The agency has a couple thousand of representatives assisting with millions of calls in California.
Because of the issue, the agency is working to set up an online chat tool and hire more employees, Levy said.
13 Week PUEC Extension
Levy also addressed the CARES Act and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, saying the CARES Act has three provisions.
Those provisions include an additional $600 in stimulus payments for any week applicants qualify for benefits and a 13-week extension on a regular unemployment claim, Levy said.
The first phase of the extension will be rolled out of May 27, Levy said.
"We're encouraging people to watch for how exactly that's going to work," she said.
Californians can normally certify for up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in a 12 month period, so even during the COVID-19 pandemic, some may not be able to apply for benefits.
Under the 13-week extension, which is expected to launch May 27, Levy said, those previously ineligible for benefits would be able to apply again.
Levy encourages Californians to monitor the EDD's website for the latest updates.
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What happens if I return to work and get laid off again or my hours get cut?
As California begins to reopen, some employees may return to work for a short time, but what happens if you get laid off or become unemployed again?
Levy said you can continue to certify the number of hours you work each week and some weeks, you may not receive unemployment benefits because you are working full time.
But if your hours are reduced or you stop working again, you can certify during those weeks and receive payment up to the 26 weeks you are eligible.
Where's my EDD debit card?
Some may be receiving unemployment payments but have not received their debit card in the mail.
Levy said EDD cards are good for up to three years. So if you've received benefits in the last three years, your debit card is still valid during the pandemic.
"When do you come into a new claim, what'll happen is when you're approved for benefits, it's posted to that EDD debit card if it's still good within that three year period," she said.
If your card is missing, the EDD has created a tool through Bank of America to replace your card.
If I receive unemployment benefits, will I owe some of those funds in taxes next year?
There's an option to deduct a portion of your benefits automatically to go toward taxes. If you didn't opt into that option, Levy suggests putting a portion of your benefits aside so you don't get caught off guard with a big bill come tax season.
I made a mistake on my form and my claim was denied. What do I do?
Unfortunately, if you've made a mistake on your form resulting in a claim denial, it will take a bit longer to correct the problem. Levy says you should take the notice you've received, make the correction on that form and mail it back to the address listed on the notice.
How do I return overpaid benefits?
It's a good problem to have, but what do you do if you're one of the few people who has continued to receive benefits after you've returned to work? You have to return them. Levy says you can start that process by logging on to the EDD website, indicate you've gone back to work and a representative will reach out to collect the funds/
WATCH VIDEO: CA Labor Secretary Julie Su answers questions about unemployment
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