An Introduction to California's Benefits System and the EDD

The Employment Development Department (EDD) oversees certain programs and services for California residents. Among others, these programs include unemployment and disability insurance benefits. Californians who have lost wages through no fault of their own or due to a disabling condition may apply for these benefits through the EDD.

A Brief History and Overview of the EDD

While the (EDD) got its name in 1974, this agency handles the administration of the much older Unemployment Reserves Act. This act set aside a monetary reserve dedicated to mitigating the social effects of unemployment. The EDD is now the largest department operating under the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, offering employment services and monetary benefits to recipients in need. 
Some of the EDD's objectives are to:
  • Collect payroll taxes that are used to fund the Unemployment and Disability programs

  • Determine eligibility for unemployment and disability benefits

  • Administer and monitor the benefits of approved claimants

  • Offer services and programs to promote job placement

  • Collect and release labor market information for the state of California

California's Unemployment and Disability Insurance Programs

You are probably reading this article because you interest in the EDD's unemployment insurance benefits or disability insurance benefits. The essence of these programs is to provide a safety net to California workers who lose income due to a loss of work or a disabling condition. The purpose of these benefits is to partially replace your income to help you sustain through the transition of either looking for a new job or recovering from your disability. These benefits are not designed to completely replace your income, and they are temporary.

The California Unemployment Insurance Program

  • Benefits Offered
    Recipients of unemployment benefits insurance (UI) receive partial income replacement after losing work. The EDD calculates the dollar amount awarded to recipients based on prior wages. Recipients can expect up to 26 weeks of benefits under this program, amounting up to $11,700. This amount may increase during a time of crisis when the federal government issues additional relief, such as the recent Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers an additional $600 per week and an additional 13-week extension in some cases.
  • Eligibility Requirements
    UI benefits are for California workers who have become totally or partially unemployed. To be eligible for UI, you must meet the following requirements:
    • Unemployed through no fault of your own
    • Physically able to work full-time (not too sick or injured) 
    • Available for work full-time
    • Ready and willing to accept work immediately
    • Earned a minimum amount of income during a four-month base period:
      • $1,300 in the highest quarter of your Base Period
      • $900 in your highest quarter and total base period earnings of 1.25 times your high quarter earnings
  • How the EDD Determines the Amount of Benefits
    UI benefit amounts are determined in relation to the wages you accrued during your "base period." This base period refers to a 12-month period of time, broken down into 3-month intervals (quarters). To calculate your weekly benefit amount, the EDD will refer to the highest-paid quarter of your base period. The agency will divide these earnings by 26 to  determine your weekly benefits, up to a maximum of $450/week. Your benefits can never exceed your total earnings during your base period.   

    Eligible claimants can receive UI benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks. Thus, to calculate the total amount of benefits granted to one claimant involves multiplying the weekly benefit amount (WBA) by 26. If your total eligibility is less than your WBA times 26, it means your earnings throughout the base period are low, which caps your computation. This usually happens when you only have qualified earnings in one quarter, but none in the other quarters.

The California Disability Insurance Program

  • Benefits Offered
    Recipients of disability benefits receive partial income replacement for short-term disabilities. Short-term disability is a broad category, including physical or mental illness or injury, elective surgery, pregnancy and childbirth, and other related medical conditions. 
  • Eligibility Requirements
    To be eligible for disability insurance benefits in California, you must meet the following requirements:
    • Be unable to complete your usual work tasks for at least eight days
    • Be employed or actively looking for work at the time your disability begins
    • Have experienced a loss in wages due to the effects of your disability
    • Have earned at least $300 in wages during your base period (see Benefits Computation below)
    • Receive care or treatment from a California licensed physician within the first eight days of your disability 
    • Submit your claim either:
      • On or after the ninth day your disability begins
      • Before the 49th day after your disability begins
    • Have your licensed physician or accredited practitioner submit a medical certification for your disability claim
  • Benefits Computation
    Disability insurance benefits are calculated based on a 12-month period of time called the 'base period.' This base period tracks wages subject to SDI tax that were paid approximately 5-18 months before the disability claim began. Importantly, the base period does not include wages paid at the time a disabling condition began.
    Wages earned during the base period are divided into four distinct 3-month intervals (quarters). To determine the dollar amount a given recipient can expect, the EDD considers the interval in which the claimant accrued their most wages. The recipient can expect a weekly wage replacement of around 60%-70% of the income earned in that interval. 

    Eligible claimants can receive disability benefit payments for a maximum of 52 weeks. Thus, the maximum dollar amount a claimant can expect to receive can be determined by multiplying the weekly benefit amount by 52.
The CUIAB and the EDD
The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (CUIAB) is an independent agency that oversees decisions made by the EDD, typically denying benefits, through the appeals process. You can appeal an unsatisfactory decision made by the EDD through the CUIAB.