Unemployment benefits are now available in California for employees and self-employed individuals who’ve suffered job loss because of the disastrous Valley Fire.
President Obama declared major disaster areas in the California counties of Calaveras and Lake on September 22, because of damage caused by the wildfire.
Subsequently, employees and self-employed individuals who’ve lost their jobs or incomes as a direct result of the disaster, might be eligible to collect wildfire unemployment benefits in the form of Disaster Unemployment Assistance.
Those who were scheduled to begin work or self-employment, but were unable to do so as a direct result of the Valley Fire, might also be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. The same goes for those who cannot reach their places of employment due to damage or who can’t work due to injury caused directly by the wildfire.
Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) benefits are federally funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and will become available as required. DUA benefits last for up to 26 weeks and are similar to those of standard state unemployment benefits. In order to collect DUA, you may not be eligible to collect standard state unemployment benefits.
To file an online claim for DUA (or standard state unemployment benefits), start by visiting the California Employment Development Department (EDD), commonly referred to as the California Unemployment Office. If you don’t have an Internet connection readily available or if you prefer to file by phone, then file a claim by calling one of the following numbers.
- English 1-800-300-5616
- Spanish 1-800-326-8937
- Cantonese 1-800-547-3506
- Mandarin 1-866-303-0706
- Vietnamese 1-800-547-2058
- TTY (non-voice) 1-800-815-9387
The window for filing a DUA claim is typically open for only 30 days after it becomes available, but FEMA might extend the deadline if damage is extremely severe. Regardless, you’ll have at least 21 days after you file to provide any supporting documents required, such as proof of previous employment or self-employment; in other words, you may file first, prove later.
For information about other types of wildfire disaster assistance, such as obtaining food and shelter, see Apply for Assistance from FEMA. See also the Disaster Resources list below.
Beware of scams! Con artists attempt to exploit disaster victims by charging bogus fees for filing DUA claims. Filing a DUA claim is always free, as is filing a claim for standard state unemployment benefits. Never pay a fee, no matter how “governmentally official” or unsuspecting the so-called “offer” seems. There are several other disaster recovery scams to avoid, too. See also Justice Department Officials Raise Awareness of Disaster Fraud Hotline.
If you need legal assistance as a victim of the wildfire disaster or a related scam, some local lawyers volunteer to help victims by charging no fees (“pro bono”) or only small fees. A free lawyer referral service might be able to help you find such a lawyer, as might a non-profit legal-aid organization in your state.
To look for a new job, start at the Job Search page here at EmployeeIssues.com.