The maximum is for people who earned at least $11,674.01 during their best quarter. They get $450 a week. However, under the just-signed federal economic stimulus package, the benefits will be going up $25 across the board.
Also under the new law, the first $2,400 in benefits this year will not be subject to federal taxes. None of the benefits are taxed by the state.
The basic benefit period lasts 26 weeks. But because of hard times, it's been extended to a maximum of 59 weeks for most recipients.
The work requirement
Unemployment compensation is not meant to be a free ride. While getting the benefits, you're required to be looking for a job. In fact, you have to send in a form every two weeks stating that you're doing just that, and willing to accept "suitable employment" if offered, according to the California Unemployment Insurance Code.
"Suitable" is "work in the individual's usual occupation, or for which he is reasonably fitted," says the code.
Therefore, a corporate executive would not be forced to take a job at McDonald's if offered.
"That would interfere with this person's search for a job that would use his experience and that he would keep at length," said Cynthia Rice, director of litigation and advocacy for the nonprofit group California Rural Legal Assistance.
What you're not supposed to do is spend your entire time lounging by the pool, writing the great American screenplay or concocting a business plan for a future endeavor.
If you do find temporary work, it might wipe out some or all of your benefit for that period. The state allows you to keep $25 or 25% of your pay for the week, whichever is higher. The rest is deducted from your check.
If the amount subtracted is more than you would have gotten from unemployment compensation, your benefit for that week is zero.
Every two weeks, the state Employment Development Department sends participants a form that must be filled out.
It asks whether you've looked for work during the last couple of weeks, accepted a job, earned any wages (which might be subtracted from the benefit) and more.
Although not as difficult reading as the plan brochure, the form can be confusing.
In fact, up to 30% of the forms mailed back to the agency have some kind of error on them that kick them out of the department's automated system.
"They're sent back to us before the last day of the period, they're not signed, the little circles that are supposed to be filled in are marked with Xs instead," Bronow said, naming some of the typical errors.
An error of this type often causes a delay in issuing a benefit check. And then the recipient might well get on the phone and call the agency, contributing to the line overload.
Many of the problems with the forms could be eliminated if they were put online, but that's not going to happen soon.
"Maybe in the next two, three years," Bronow said.
Here's a thought: Let's take the tech people who are out of work and have them design an online system sooner.
Unemployed writers could translate department booklets into language that can be understood by humans.
And laid-off accountants could staff unemployment insurance offices, reopened for in-person help.
All it would take is money, and a way around tape as red as those direct-line phones.
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
In order to receive unemployment insurance benefits after losing a job, these requirements must be met:
* The job ended because of a layoff, or otherwise through no fault of your own.
* You were not an independent contractor.
* You earned at least $900 in a fiscal quarter of what the state refers to as a base period.
Source: Times research
Important websites and phone numbers:
* Apply for unemployment insurance benefits at https://eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov.
* Information line (usually busy) for state unemployment insurance offices: (800) 300-5616.
* Official booklet at www.edd.ca.gov/unemployment.
Click on "Guide to Benefits and Employment Services" in the language of your choice.
* No-cost help from the Employment Law Center at (415) 864-8208.
Source: Times research
Preparing to file
You can streamline the process by having the following information ready before filing for unemployment benefits.
* Social Security number
* Driver's license number
* Name, address and phone number of most recent employer
* Last date you worked for the employer, and your salary
* Reason you are no longer working there
* List of all other employers, if any, over the last 18 months. Include dates you worked at each and your wages.
Source: California Employment Development Department