California COVID-19 Employee Financial Relief Guide

Gusto Editors

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life across the world, bringing many businesses to a standstill and jeopardizing the livelihood of millions. In response, state governments are extending relief programs and support resources to residents. 

In California, the state has worked in conjunction with the federal government and private organizations to provide resources to residents as they navigate an uncertain future. This guide takes a closer look at relief programs available to California residents.

Financial relief in California

Economic Impact Payment

Californians are eligible for the one-time economic impact payment issued by the federal government. U.S. citizens and resident aliens can receive up to $1,200 per person; married couples who file joint tax returns receive $2,400, and an additional $500 per child is included.

  • What’s the benefit?: A one-time Economic Impact Payment of up to $1,200 per person, plus an additional $500 per child.
  • Who is eligible?: American citizens or U.S. resident aliens who meet the following financial requirements:
    • Those who have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 or under if filing single, $112,500 if a head of household filer, or $150,000 if married filing jointly
    • Those with higher AGIs — single filers above $75,000 to $99,000, heads of household above $112,500 up to $136,500, and joint filers above $150,000 to $198,000 — will receive a smaller economic impact payment
  • How to apply: There is no application required. Californians will automatically receive their payment by mail or by direct deposit if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has payment information on file.
  • More information: Visit the IRS website to look up the status of your payment.

Unemployment benefits in California

To be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in California, applicants must have lost their jobs or been unable to work through no fault or choice of their own. To be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, workers must:

  • Earn enough wages in a 12-month period to qualify: at least $1,300 in the last three months or $900 in base pay in the last three months
  • Be totally or partially unemployed
  • Be physically able to work
  • Be available for work
  • Be ready and willing to accept work immediately

Generally, unemployment insurance benefits range from $40 to $450 per week. To calculate your benefit amount, visit the state Employment Development Department (EDD). To apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits through the EDD, follow these steps:

  • Access the UI Online portal during hours of operation. You can also file by phone or mail.
  • Create a Benefit Programs Online account.
  • Register for UI Online. Enter your name, date of birth, social security number, and EDD customer account number.
  • File a claim by providing all relevant information, including your previous employer, the last date you worked, reason for unemployment, and gross earnings for the last week you worked.

Once approved for unemployment insurance benefits, you must certify for benefits every two weeks. To do so, log in to the EDD online portal and answer the certification questions. If you stop claiming benefits and want to certify for benefits again, you must first reopen your claim with the EDD, or file a new claim if your previous unemployment insurance claim has expired.

Due to COVID-19, recipients of unemployment insurance benefits are eligible for an additional $600 in weekly benefits payments on top of their regular payments; this funding is paid through the state and funded by the federal government. The additional $600 payment may come as a separate payment each week.

Healthcare relief in California

Healthcare resources are naturally of concern during a public health crisis. Californians can access these healthcare resources during the pandemic:

COVID-19 testing and insurance

In California, the COVID-19 Testing Task Force serves as a public-private partnership that oversees the provision of virus testing and tracking throughout the state. Free testing is available to Californians who meet certain eligibility criteria under a program known as Project Baseline, operated by research and life science company Verily. The task force identifies testing priorities on a tiered basis that groups individuals based on risk level and exposure potential.

  • What’s the benefit?: Free COVID-19 viral tests.
  • Who is eligible?: Anyone who meets the criteria set by Project Baseline. Tier 1 includes those exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, healthcare providers, essential workers, those who are hospitalized, those in high-risk settings, and asymptomatic individuals who live in group settings. Tier 2 includes lower-risk asymptomatic people. The lowest tier, community surveillance, includes any asymptomatic person.
  • How to apply: Visit the Project Baseline website and fill out the screening application.
  • More information: Visit the state’s COVID-19 website for a breakdown of the program and how it works.

COVID-19 treatment coverage

Covered California, the state healthcare exchange created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), has extended a special enrollment period through June 30th, 2020, for people who are uninsured and in need of coverage during COVID-19. In addition, Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, is open for enrollment at any time. Those eligible for Medi-Cal will be enrolled and their coverage will begin immediately. 

If you have health insurance, it is recommended you check with your provider to confirm your current healthcare benefits. Under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, insurance plans must cover COVID-19 related care, including preventative treatments, medications, and other treatments related to the novel coronavirus. Healthcare organizations are to be reimbursed at the normal Medicare rates for costs associated with treating uninsured patients, as well.

  • What’s the benefit?: Covered COVID-19 treatment costs.
  • Who is eligible?: Those who have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • How to apply: There is no application necessary to receive this benefit.
  • More information: California’s Department of Managed Healthcare maintains a list of updates related to insurance coverage and treatment of COVID-19.

Telemedicine coverage in California

Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to expand protections to healthcare providers who offer their patients telemedicine services. This includes the use of video conferencing for consultations and exams, as well as dedicated telehealth platforms. The executive order removes the risk of a healthcare provider incurring a penalty for offering this service to patients. Additionally, the federal Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines and waivers regarding the use of telemedicine. 

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) also expanded their reimbursement policies regarding telemedicine, allowing healthcare providers in California and elsewhere to bill insurance payers for COVID-19 related care delivered via telehealth. Private insurance companies are not required to reimburse for telemedicine services; however, many have chosen to establish their own reimbursement policies for these services. Check with your individual policy or benefits administrator for details. 

  • What’s the benefit?: Relaxed telemedicine regulations and insurance coverage for telemedicine services.
  • Who is eligible?: Healthcare providers and patients utilizing telemedicine services.
  • How to apply: There is no application process necessary to receive this benefit.

Food benefits in California

There are already a wide range of food benefits programs available to California residents, including CalFresh, which is the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Additionally, California offers home-delivered meals for seniors in need, regardless of income level. There are also local and county food banks located throughout the state. 

Pandemic EBT benefits

Due to COVID-19, California established the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits program. P-EBT benefits are available to families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. The program provides up to $365 per child in a one-time payment while schools are closed due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Families receiving CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Foster Care benefits do not need to apply in order to receive P-EBT benefits. P-EBT benefits begin in May 2020.

  • What’s the benefit?: P-EBT assistance for eligible families with children.
  • Who is eligible?: Families receiving CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Foster Care benefits, as well as families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
  • How to apply: Families receiving CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Foster Care benefits are automatically enrolled in P-EBT. Families with children receiving free or reduced-price school meals must apply for benefits online via the CA Department of Social Services before June 30th. The online application is scheduled to launch in late May.
  • More information: Visit the Pandemic EBT page on the California Department of Social Services website.

Federal food benefits and resources

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended waivers to most states intended to expand availability of food for WIC recipients. Additionally, the federal government has expanded SNAP assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on federal food programs, benefits, and resources, see our guide to federal relief for COVID-19.

Housing and utilities benefits in California

Some renters and homeowners are struggling to make rental and mortgage payments due to the economic impacts associated with COVID-19. The State of California and many financial institutions have extended relief programs to those eligible residents.

California issues a moratorium on tenant evictions

The State of California issued a statewide eviction moratorium for renters who are unable to pay their rent due to the economic impact of COVID-19. The eviction moratorium, which began on March 27th, was valid through May 31st, 2020. After this, the state recommends renters unable to pay rent explain their financial situation to their landlord, save all financial documentation, and pay as much of the rent due as possible. Renters who have followed these recommendations and still face eviction attempts should contact a legal representative.

Mortgage relief and forbearance

The state is working with more than 200 state-chartered banks and credit unions to provide relief to homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage bills. These participating financial institutions have agreed to extend a 90-day grace period to all mortgage payments due in California, as well as waive all related fees for 90 days. Accepting this form of housing relief will not affect credit scores.

  • What is the benefit?: Mortgage payment relief.
  • Who is eligible?: Homeowners experiencing difficulty paying the mortgage due to COVID-19.
  • How to apply: Contact your mortgage servicer directly.

Utilities payments

Citing an average rise in energy use of 15% to 20% due to stay-at-home orders, The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has taken several steps to provide relief in the form of utility payments reductions and assistance programs. These include:

  • Suspension of renewal requirements for existing low-income programs: Participants in the California LifeLine, California Alternate Rates for Energy, and Family Electric Rate Assistance programs will no longer have to renew for continued participation in these programs. 
  • Reducing energy bills for residents and businesses: Through the California Climate Credit, the CPUC is reducing energy bills in May and June. Californians typically receive a credit in April and October of each calendar year, funded through payments required of power plants, natural gas distributors, and other large industries that emit greenhouse gases. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, October’s credit will be split in half and applied to May 2020 and June 2020 statements.
  • Eliminating and delaying some rate increases: The CPUC has eliminated certain planned rate increases, such as the summer rate increase planned by San Diego Gas & Electric. It also delayed a planned increase on small business gas bills. 
  • Shutoff suspension: All electric, gas, and community choice aggregators (CCAs) in California have agreed to suspend service disconnections during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Assistance programs: In addition to statewide benefits, many utilities providers offer assistance programs to help those struggling with their utility bills. Consult with your utility provider for more information.

Education benefits in California

California residents with student loans can expect relief in the form of deferments and forbearance, even from most private lenders.

Student loan forbearance

On April 23rd, the State of California announced that 21 of the 24 major private student loan services would extend payment relief to more than 1.1 million Californians with privately held student loans. Those companies would offer deferments for 90 days and extend payment plans to borrowers after the 90-day period expires. In addition, the state prohibited debt collectors from pursuing garnishments of any assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Additionally, the federal U.S. Department of Education placed all student loans into administrative forbearance automatically when the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability (CARES) Act was signed. 

The spread of the novel coronavirus is both a public health and economic crisis. At Gusto, we’re committed to helping you navigate this challenging time.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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