Getting Unemployment Insurance benefits in 2023

Not all that long ago, I wrote about my experience applying for unemployment. Last time around I didn’t get a dime because the system was broken. I got a job fairly quickly and didn’t bother fighting for the money I was owed. It didn’t seem worth it. As I wrote:

If I needed the cash to pay bills, I suppose I’d keep calling until I got through to someone. It’s dehumanizing though. Basically the system seems designed to prevent people from using it.

This time started off better because I got my EDD number in the mail and was able to log into the site to certify my weeks. The way the system works is you get paid for weeks you don’t have work. Every other Sunday the system prompts people to “certify weeks”, which means filling in a form telling the state if you worked, how much you got paid (if you worked), whether you searched for jobs and a few other related details. Theoretically you can do this via a phone call or physical mail, but for once the website works well enough.

The state calculates a Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) based on what you’ve earned recently. It’s capped at $450, however. That’s $1,800 most months, which isn’t likely to cover rent:

Screenshot 2023-12-20 at 9.37.45 AM

You can work part time and still get benefits as long as you don’t make too much. The calculation is:

WBA - (Earnings x 0.75)

For the maximum WBA ($450) that means you don’t get anything if you make more than $600 in a week.

My previous employer offered me part time hours for two extra weeks so that I could wrap up outstanding tasks. I dutifully recorded my final paycheck for the part time hours. Later I got a letter telling me to expect a call from EDD sometime in a two hour window. It turns out they needed to ask me about the two weeks of part time work. I’d recorded not getting paid the first week and getting the full amount the second week. But it turns out I’m supposed to report the actual number of hours I’d worked each week and calculate the amount I earned rather then the lump sum. If I’d lied,[1] I could have received my full benefit ($450) one week and nothing the next week. Instead, I got nothing for either week because I earned more than $600 each week.

I also got a letter giving me an option to request a check rather than the EDD debit card (managed by Bank of America). Since I can deposit a check instantly and since I need to pay the mortgage, that seemed more useful than a debit card.[2] I sent back the request to get a check the next day, but it somehow didn’t get processed and I got a debit card in the mail. The envelope was open already and I worried my card or the money might have been stolen. I was able to log into Bank of America and check my balance. My first payment was there, so maybe it was just a coincidence that the envelope was open? Fortunately I was able to get converted to receiving a check when I talked to the representative on the phone.

Yesterday was another scheduled appointment. I had to call in via Zoom at 3pm. Before the call, I sent in my Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment (RESEA) Questionnaire (Form DE 8531). I answered all the questions truthfully, including 6 jobs I’d applied for in the past two weeks. The form has 10 spots for applications. The email I got told me to do 6, so that’s what I did. On the call, the representative told me my benefits would be denied if I didn’t have 3 for one week and 3 for the next week. So I said I’d find more jobs I’d applied for and fill those in. She told me to just change the dates. After I did that and sent her the signed form, she asked if she could change more dates. Why not? How would anyone verify?

She also had a few other things for me to change:

  • Don’t mention remote work.
  • I need to take a job offer even if it’s a 20% pay cut or risk losing my benefits.
  • I need to be willing to commute 1 hour each way or risk losing my benefits.
  • Burbank and Glendale is too limited. I need to accept work anywhere in Los Angeles County.
  • I must be willing to work on Sundays even if my religious convictions are to not work on that day.
  • If I say I’m considering self-employment, I will lose my benefit.
  • When it comes to which shifts I’m willing to work, “Flexible” is the wrong answer. I should say “Open”.

All of this is, of course, pointless. I paid into the system for years and these stringent requirements are designed to prevent people from collecting unemployment benefits without intending to work. The representative knows the secret criteria for red flags and guided me to avoiding them. I’m looking for work and will take a job when I’m offered one. Changing my answers on the form doesn’t change my intentions. It’s all a waste of money to pay people to deny me benefits while paying other people to help me avoid raising any flags in my forms.

I had to send photos of my driver’s license. Because of EDD’s computer system, the HEIF image files from my phone didn’t get sent. So I had to export them as JPEGs. (Do people know how to do this as a rule?) I also had to sign a couple of documents. The representative hurried me through the process because she needed to get all of this before 4pm or I’d lose my benefits. Remember EDD scheduled the call at 3pm.

I also need to take one of two classes. I picked the Virtual RESEA Resume Writing Workshop because it’s Friday at 10am Pacific. I’m going to be in Virginia on Friday, so that’ll be 1pm. The other option would have been 3pm Pacific/6pm Eastern. I suppose I should be glad I got a choice at all. I’m unemployed, so what else would I be up to?

At least the money is coming in this time. For now.

  1. Whether on not I would have been caught in a lie depends entirely on my previous employer’s HR department. As it happens, they called me a few minutes later to say they were contacted by EDD and wanted to make sure they said the same thing so that my benefits wouldn’t be cut. ↩︎

  2. For many people the opposite is true, so this seems like a good default. It’s sorta ridiculous that you can’t do this on the website, but must send the request via physical mail. ↩︎