(TNS) — Jobless Californians could get up to seven additional weeks of unemployment benefits, bringing the maximum duration to 59 weeks for those on regular state unemployment and 46 weeks for those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, according to an Employment Development Department announcement last Wednesday.

The extended benefits are part of a program known as Federal-State Extended Duration benefits; the EDD calls it Fed-Ed. It becomes available when a state experiences high or prolonged periods of unemployment. California previously became eligible for 13 weeks of these benefits; the extra seven brings it to 20 weeks for those receiving regular state unemployment insurance.

Those people can now receive up to 26 weeks of regular state benefits, followed by 13 weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, a federal program created and funded under the Cares Act. After that, they could begin to collect up to 20 weeks of Fed-Ed if they remain unemployed, for a total of 59 weeks.

People who lost work because of the coronavirus and are not eligible for regular state benefits — including the self-employed — can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA. The Cares Act created this program and is funding up to 39 weeks of assistance from the first week of February through the year’s end.

The extra seven weeks announced Wednesday brings it to 46, but these benefits cannot be paid after Dec. 26 in California, even if someone has not collected the full 46 weeks, said Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project.

These extensions come at a time when at least thousands of Californians who filed for unemployment months ago are still waiting for their first week of benefits.

That includes Launa Craig, who lost her part-time job at the Oakland Zoo on March 31 and filed for unemployment a few days later.

“I received a form from EDD with zero benefits noted. I noticed that the Social Security number on the form was not mine, and not even close,” she said. “I went online to try and explain but to get into the system, I needed an EDD account number, which I did not receive on the form letter, I guess because I was to receive zero benefits.”

So Craig filed another claim on May 8. On June 1, the EDD online system said she had a claim being processed, but she never received any money or further information. On Tuesday — a month later — she received a letter from EDD saying it had assigned her a Social Security number because it couldn’t identify her, and instructed her to send in two forms of photo identification, which she mailed in.

Extended benefits “are great because I doubt very seriously that the zoo is going to hire back anyone until next year,” Craig said. “But I’d like the money now.” With no benefits coming in “you dig into resources you didn’t want to use.”

The extra seven weeks of regular and pandemic benefits were made possible because the state, in AB103, agreed to change the way it determines when extended benefits come and go, Emsellem said. That bill was part of the budget package signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday. The bill also agreed not to “charge” employers, or raise their unemployment insurance tax, for layoffs related to the pandemic.

The federal government will pay the full cost of the 20-week extension of state benefits, and the seven-week extension of pandemic benefits.

“Those who qualify for Fed-Ed will receive the extra $600 (per week) stimulus payment through July 25,” the end date for that payment under the Cares Act, EDD said.

Whether someone receives the full 59 weeks of regular or 46 weeks of pandemic benefits depends on how many weeks they had in their original claim and when the various extended benefit programs expire, EDD noted in its news release. The 13 weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation “sunsets at the end of the year and we don’t have an end date for the Fed-Ed at this point since that all depends on the unemployment conditions in the state,” EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy said in an email.

Separately, the EDD said it will begin expanding the state’s Paid Family Leave program from six to eight weeks, which was authorized in the 2019-20 state budget. The program pays eligible parents and caregivers about 60 percent to 70 percent of their income while they take time off from work to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member. The benefits can be used at once or staggered over a 12-month period.

©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.