Disaster Unemployment Assistance: How Workers Can Access the Program After the California Wildfires

Updated November 17, 2017

What Is Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)?

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), also referred to as Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance, is a federal program that provides temporary financial assistance to individuals unemployed as a result of a “major disaster” declared by the president.

On October 10, 2017, a major disaster was declared due to the unprecedented California Wildfires. As of October 17th, DUA benefits are available to workers in 8 California counties who are displaced from employment due to the wildfires and who do not qualify for regular state Unemployment Insurance (UI). Those counties are: Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sonoma, and Yuba. The deadline for filing DUA applications in those counties is December 18th.

Due to the disaster, California has waived the normal one-week waiting period for those claiming state UI benefits in those 8 counties and in three others (Mariposa, Solano, and Trinity) covered by earlier state fire emergencies.  As a result, UI and DUA benefits can be paid beginning with the first week in which a worker is wholly or partially unemployed as a result of the disaster.

For a current list of federally-declared disasters and emergencies, see FEMA’s website (http://www.fema.gov/disasters).

California Wildfire Federal Disaster Counties
Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sonoma, and Yuba.

What Are the Basic Eligibility Requirements for DUA?

There are two major requirements for an individual to qualify for DUA: 1) The individual must be out of work as a “direct result” of a major disaster; and 2) The individual does not qualify for regular unemployment insurance (UI) from any state. Once found to be eligible for DUA, workers must actively look for work and accept suitable work offered them, not unlike UI recipients. In addition, the individual must show that for every week he or she is collecting DUA, his or her unemployment continues to be the direct result of the disaster, not other factors.

How Much Are DUA Benefit Payments?

Like UI benefits, DUA benefits are paid weekly, once an application is completed, filed and processed. DUA recipients receive the same weekly benefits that they would have been entitled to had they qualified for UI in the state where they were employed. However, at a minimum, DUA benefits cannot be less than one-half of the state’s average weekly UI benefits. In California, the average weekly UI benefit is $320.55, the minimum weekly DUA benefit is $161, and the maximum weekly benefit for both DUA and UI is $450 (see the state maximum and minimum DUA benefit levels below).

The DUA benefits for part-time workers are pro-rated based on the hours they worked as a percent of a 40-hour work week. Note that DUA benefits are reduced by any other wage-loss compensation, including private insurance, Supplemental Unemployment Benefits, worker’s compensation, and a pro-rated amount of a retirement pension or annuity.

California $161 Minimum Weekly DUA Benefit/$450 Maximum


How Long Will an Individual’s DUA Benefits Last?

The maximum duration of DUA benefits is 26 weeks. However, an individual’s benefits cannot extend beyond the period when the disaster officially ends, which is six months from the date the federal disaster was declared. In the case of California, that means the DUA benefits cannot extend beyond April 2018 (unless the deadline is extended by Congress). In addition, the DUA benefits cannot extend beyond when the recipient returns to work or self-employment or beyond the period when the individual’s unemployment is no longer directly related to the disaster.

What Are Some Major Examples of Individuals Who Can Collect DUA?

Those who may be eligible for DUA and typically could not collect regular state UI benefits include:

  • Self-employed people who lost their business or suffered a substantial interruption of activities as a direct result of a major disaster;
  • Workers whose place of employment was damaged due to the disaster and work is not available;
  • Workers who cannot reach their employment as a result of the disaster;
  • Workers unemployed as a result of an injury caused as a direct result of the disaster;
  • People who are scheduled to start work but became unemployed because they no longer have a job as a direct result of a disaster.

Are Workers Who Did Not Work in the Disaster Area Also Eligible for DUA if Their Unemployment Was Still Directly Caused by the Disaster?

There are limited situations where workers outside the disaster area can qualify for DUA if they were laid off due to their employer’s loss of substantial revenue from contracts with businesses located in the disaster area. However, according to the federal regulations, the employer or self-employed individual must have received at least a “majority of its revenue or income from an entity that was either damaged or destroyed in the disaster.” In addition, the individual must continually establish that his or her unemployment remains directly related to the major disaster.

What Are the Deadlines to Apply for DUA?

To qualify for DUA, individuals must normally apply no later than 30 days after the availability of DUA was officially announced by the state. As of November 17th, the deadline for DUA applications from workers in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sonoma, and Yuba counties is December 18th. Late applications can be accepted, but only if “good cause” is shown for the late filing. However, under no circumstances can DUA applications be accepted after the disaster period ends. (In special circumstances, the U.S. Department of Labor has extended the 30-day deadline to file DUA benefits.)

What Information Is Necessary to Verify an Applicant’s Work and Earnings?

The DUA application requires proof of employment and earnings, as well as a Social Security Number. The proof of employment is due no later than 21 days after the application is filed with the state. For self-employed applicants, copies of tax returns are required as proof of income and self-employment. If verification of employment or other documents requested as part of the DUA application are not available, a sworn statement including other forms of verification can be submitted. Interim DUA payments can take place while the necessary documentation is gathered. However, the failure to submit the required documentation on time may result in a benefit overpayment which can later be recovered from the individual by the state. (In special circumstances, the U.S. Department of Labor has extended the 21-day deadline to provide the necessary employment and earnings information.)

Where Can an Individual Apply for DUA?

Each state may process DUA somewhat differently. Most states will process applications by telephone, as part of their automated claims-taking process for regular state UI benefits, and online via the Internet. For the latest information on how to file for DUA as a result of the California Wildfires disaster, we recommend that individuals regularly check the California unemployment insurance agency website listed below.

California Website: http://www.edd.ca.gov/


Are Agricultural Workers Eligible for State Unemployment Benefits?

Yes, farmworkers are fully eligible for state unemployment benefits in California.  If a farmworker does not qualify for state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits due to failing to meet the state UI earnings requirement, the farmworker may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), if he or she was not employed on a small farm.

Are Immigrant Workers Eligible for State Unemployment Benefits and Federally-Funded Disaster Unemployment Assistance?

Generally, workers who have work authorization both at the time that they were working and while they collect benefits may qualify for regular state unemployment benefits and DUA.

Individuals who are not U.S. citizens must present documentation supporting their immigration status, and the State UI agency must verify their status through a government process called Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement Program (SAVE), administered by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).

What Additional Services and Resources Are Available to Workers and Families Impacted by the California Wildfires?

In addition to DUA, the federal government is funding a range of services for workers and families impacted by the California Wildfires disaster.

The National Employment Law Project is a non-profit organization that advocates for unemployed workers.  The information provided with this fact sheet is based on the best resources we have available on the DUA program.  However, it should not be relied upon as source of official government information on the DUA program.

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