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How to claim unemployment benefits in California: Who is eligible?

In order to qualify for unemployment benefits in California you must meet certain eligibility requirements. Here we will those and how to file a claim.

Eligibility and claiming unemployment benefits in California

The California unemployment rate has returned to the level of where it was at prior to the covid-19 pandemic when it spiked sending millions to claim unemployment insurance benefits. At that time the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD), which handles claims, buckled under the strain of so many people filing.

Since then, the agency has made improvements and learned many lessons from those tough times. With the tech industry laying off employees by the thousands and concerns that rising interest rates could still push the economy into recession the department says it’s ready.

“The level of testing that the pandemic put us through, we are in such a strong position to weather a typical economic contraction,” communications advisor at the department Gareth Lacy told Cal Matters.

While one can only hope that the optimists predicting a soft landing and not a full-on contraction of the economy are right, should you find yourself out of work, here’s what the state requires of you in order to apply for unemployment benefits to hold you over until you find a new job.

Eligibility requirements to claim unemployment benefits in California

In order to qualify for unemployment benefits in California you must meet the following requirements:

  • Have earned enough wages during the base period.
  • Be totally or partially unemployed.
  • Be unemployed through no fault of your own.
  • Be physically able to work.
  • Be available for work.
  • Be ready and willing to accept work immediately.

The EDD uses a base period, a specific 12-month span of time, to calculate that you have earned enough wages to establish a claim. Those that haven’t worked at any time in the last 18 months and didn’t earn any wages will not qualify for benefits.

Once you are receiving benefits you will need to certify that you still qualify periodically, but at that time you will only need to show that:

  • Physically able to work.
  • Available for work.
  • Ready and willing to accept work immediately.

Before you are paid unemployment benefits you must serve a one-week unpaid waiting period on your claim.

Information you’ll need to provide

You’ll be required to give a range of personal and employment information when you claim UI benefits. You’ll find a full list of the details you’ll need to provide as part of your application here.

Where to apply for UI


You can apply on the internet using the UI Online tool. EDD says that this is a “fast, convenient, and secure way” for users to access their account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The online page allows UI customers to access claim information, certify for benefits, report work and wages, view detailed payment information, and manage their claims.

Note, that currently those who are on Partial or Work Sharing claims cannot use the online site to certify for benefits or reopen an existing claim. However, you can access all other features of the system.

By phone:

You can call the following toll-free phone numbers between 8am and 5pm (PT), Monday to Friday

English and Spanish:  1-800-300-5616
Armenian:  1-855-528-1518
Cantonese:  1-800-547-3506
Korean:  1-844-660-0877
Mandarin:  1-866-303-0706
Tagalog:  1-866-395-1513
Vietnamese:  1-800-547-2058
California Relay Service (711): Provide the UI number (1-800-300-5616) to the operator
TTY:  1-800-815-9387

By mail/fax:

You can download an application form here and send it to the fax number or postal address listed on the form.

After filing

Documentation confirming your claim will be sent to your postal address within two weeks of applying. “Be sure to read and respond to all requests to avoid payment delays,” notes California’s Employment Development Department.

You’ll either receive an email confirming your UI Online registration or a letter with your EDD Customer Account Number, which you can use to complete your registration.

Once you are registered, you need to certify your claim either on UI Online, by phone (1-866-333-4606) or by posting the paper form. You will then have to continue to certify your eligibility for benefits every two weeks.

You’ll find more information about what to do after applying for benefits here.