Weekly $300 pandemic unemployment assistance ending in California

Millions of Californians have depended on an extra $300 a week in unemployment assistance, but that all comes to an end as the final round of payments goes out next week. But those who are jobless in the state won't be cut off completely.

The federal money is part of the Lost Wages Assistance Program distrubuted by California's Employment Development Department (EDD) to help workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic

Much of that money should have been distributed weeks or months before now, however, a tremendous backlog has prevented it from getting it to those who need it.

“I feel like this whole thing is going to be an on and off thing for the rest of the year or so,” unemployed performing artist Marri Cleghorn said. “I really just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

That frustration has been mounting for months and with no new deal for a COVID-19 relief package in Washington D.C., the extra federal money is no more. 

It’s especially tough for gig workers, independent contractors and those who are self-employed. 

But attorney and former director of California’s Employment Development Department, Michael Bernick, said those who are unemployed in the state should not panic.

“People won’t be losing their unemployment insurance,” he said. “If there’s good news it’s that the state unemployment continues and now has been extended.”

While the $300 extra bonus won’t be an option, for jobless Californians who applied or receive regular unemployment insurance, the benefits have been extended up to 59 weeks of pay. For pandemic unemployment insurance an extension of up to 46 total weeks has been put into place.

Still, the overwhelming issue is the backlog of applications. In total, the EDD estimates 1.5 million claims are still backlogged and may not be fully cleared until at least January.

“This could drive anyone to suicide,” jewelry designer Li Li Clever said. “You just feel hopeless and helpless and like you have no control over your life.”

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Part of the problem at EDD has been scammers filing false applications and increasing the already bogged-down and outdated state system. In an effort to address the delays and rampant fraud, EDD took the past two weeks to reset and implement new technology.

“EDD has the mandate to prevent fraud but part of that, like so much in public policy, is a balancing,” Bernick said. “These anti-fraud measures do slow down the processing of claims or add an additional layer of verification.”

This week the state launched a new ID verification tool in hopes of providing better security, speeding up the claims process from the start, and weeding out potential fraud. 

The success of this enhanced verification remains to be seen but it has had positive results in other states.

Experts advise managing your account and updating information to increase the likelihood of prompt payments and benefits.

Since March, the state has processed 15 million claims providing $98 billion in unemployment money.

Still, many are left waiting for help and assistance as they look for new work.

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Cleghorn said.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at brooks.jarosz@foxtv.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU