Getting unemployment in CA? Most now have to look for a job

FILE - In this June 24, 2021 file photo, a hiring sign is displayed in Downers Grove, Ill. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week even while the economy and the job market appear to be rebounding from the coronavirus recession with sustained energy. The government said, Thursday, July 8, jobless claims increased by 2,000 from the previous week to 373,000. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

FILE – In this June 24, 2021 file photo, a hiring sign is displayed in Downers Grove, Ill. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week even while the economy and the job market appear to be rebounding from the coronavirus recession with sustained energy. The government said, Thursday, July 8, jobless claims increased by 2,000 from the previous week to 373,000. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

AP

Starting Sunday and continuing in the weeks ahead, most people receiving unemployment benefits in California must be actively looking for work if they are to keep getting jobless benefits.

That generally means making a sincere effort to find employment.

Job search is broadly defined.

It can involve contacting employers, applying for jobs or registering with CalJOBS, the state’s job-finding service.

It can mean participating in networking, job fair events or clubs. Or engaging in education and training that will help find work.

Exceptions exist, depending on the type of claim and a person’s personal situation. California also has a robust Work Sharing program that allows employees whose employers participate to work fewer hours at their regular jobs and still get unemployment benefits to help supplement lost wages.

This much is simply defined, though: If you say on the bi-weekly certification that you aren’t looking for work as required, you could face delays.

In such cases, the Employment Development Department, which manages the unemployment program, will investigate your eligibility and you could be disqualified from receiving benefits.

For decades, unemployment claimants in most cases had to certify they were seeking a job, among other requirements, before they could get payments. The job search requirement was suspended in March 2020, as the COVID pandemic triggered an economic recession unlike any since the Great Depression.

Since then, 23 million claims have been filed in California, and EDD has paid out $155 billion.

Why a job search?

The job market is improving, and the state’s unemployment rate, which peaked at 16% in April 2020, was 7.9% in May 2021.

“Our state’s anemic reopening over the last several months meant that many people couldn’t go back to work. Now that Governor Newsom has decided we can all return to life as normal, it seems appropriate to reinstate the requirement to look for work,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, who’s been active in unemployment issues.

There are concerns about the change. EDD remains inundated by claims, and constituents continue to report problems reaching staff for help.

“At some point, it does make sense to reintroduce the job search requirement,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco.

“However, given that EDD still has a massive backlog of unpaid claims and has consistently struggled to implement new requirements, I worry this may not be the time to introduce another hurdle,” he said.

EDD says it’s ready, and acknowledges that the new policy could be seen as complex. It offers this fact sheet to help explain: https://edd.ca.gov/unemployment/pdf/returning-to-work-fact-sheet.pdf

Here’s how EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy said the department makes sure what people tell them about the job search is accurate:

Every claimant must sign and submit their bi-weekly certifications under penalty of perjury. If there are any eligibility issues that come up on the claim, EDD may contact the claimant or set up a determination interview to collect additional information from the claimant — including potential evidence of their job search efforts.

EDD representatives make an eligibility determination based on all information available and the claimant may either be validated or disqualified from payment.

Generally, there are two types of claimants – those receiving regular unemployment insurance and associated federal extension benefits, and those receiving benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Regular unemployment payments

Regular unemployment insurance is the benefit paid to people who worked for an employer. The employer pays unemployment insurance taxes, which funds the regular benefits.

People filing a new claim for these benefits will have to create an account on CalJOBS. They can meet the job search requirements in a number of ways, including participating in its re-employment services and putting their information on job search and networking sites. EDD also suggests using America’s Job Center of California, which also offers job-finding help.

Claimants can also show they’re seeking work by telling their friends, previous employers and community members they are seeking work, perhaps by getting involved in job fair events or clubs.

Applicants could apply for jobs with employers “reasonably expected to have suitable openings matching skills and experience, including government jobs and exams.” Applicants can participate in what EDD considers “permissible” education and training programs that will help them get jobs and doesn’t interfere with their ability to search for and accept work.

Every two weeks when claimants answer the questions on their certification showing they remain unemployed and still eligible for benefits, an applicant can respond yes to the question about searching for work as long as they are doing at least one of these kinds of work search activities each week.

Answer no, and EDD will ask follow-up questions and could interview you to see if you can collect benefits for that period. EDD recommends claimants track their job search activities in the event the department asks for that information in a review of their eligibility.

PUA payments

This one is tougher. The PUA program was created in March 2020 to provide federally-funded benefits to those who had traditionally not been covered by regular unemployment insurance. It ends in early September.

The program has allowed independent contractors, small business owners, gig workers who do not qualify for regular unemployment insurance, and others in California to receive the PUA benefit.

Just as PUA is not a traditional benefit program, its job search requirements are also different.

EDD plans to send PUA recipients notices in the weeks ahead as to what is required

They will not have to register on CalJOBS, although EDD recommends they do so to help with the job search.

They will have to follow the specific work search guidance being provided on their claim when they certify for benefits every two weeks which could include activities such as:.

Seeking new or additional clients, marketing their business or research or getting ready to submit a bid on a new contract.

Attending networking events or useful workshops, or expanding their business.

Enrolling in training or education courses that will help the business and does not interfere with an ability to return to full-time self-employment.

If someone receiving PUA wants to look for salaried work, rather than self-employment, they would then follow the rules for regular benefits.

Exceptions to the job search rules

There are some exceptions to the work search requirement.

Someone on a PUA claim who is eligible for benefits because of their need to provide primary care to a person with COVID, or for a child who can’t attend school because of COVID emergency, can be exempted from looking for work during a week while receiving PUA.

If someone was laid off or furloughed during the pandemic and they can return to work with an employer who is participating in the state’s Work Sharing Program at reduced hours, they can keep collecting the additional $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits, without needing to look for work. That’s in addition to the unemployment benefits they receive as part of the program to offset their lost wages.

People receiving regular unemployment insurance can be exempt from the job search rules if they have a “definite job promise within a reasonable time,” on a layoff because of bad weather or “another reason,” and will be working again within 30 days of when they are certifying for benefits.

Also exempt: People with a special skill whose job prospects are limited and they cannot find work, or their chances for work have been “virtually eliminated because of a trade dispute.”

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He’s been writing, editing and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Riverside, Calif., Annapolis, Baltimore and since 1981, Washington.