In October, a series of raging wildfires caused multiple fatalities and injuries and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in California. Although the fires are now contained, many communities are just beginning to pick up the pieces in places like Santa Rosa, Napa, and Sonoma. It also means that thousands of Californians are out of jobs.

The federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program provides financial assistance to employees who have lost their jobs due to a major natural disaster. DUA benefits are available only to employees who are ineligible for regular unemployment benefits through the state. Employees receiving other state benefits, such as temporary disability insurance benefits, are not eligible for DUA benefits.

The California wildfires were declared a major natural disaster on October 10, 2017 in the counties of Sonoma, Napa, Nevada, Mendocino, Lake, Butte, Orange, and Yuba. DUA benefits are available to employees who live or work in one of these counties and who, due to natural disaster:

  • no longer have jobs or a place to work
  • are unable to reach their place of employment
  • are self-employed and unable to work
  • cannot work due to injury, or
  • are now the head of their household due to a family member’s death.

DUA benefits are calculated in the same manner as regular California unemployment benefits. However, the minimum payment is 50% of the average benefit amount in the state. Benefits are paid for up to 26 weeks. (To learn more about benefit rates, see our article on California unemployment benefits.)

Those seeking benefits should file an unemployment claim with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) and indicate that they are unemployed due to a natural disaster. The EDD will determine the employee’s eligibility for either regular unemployment or DUA benefits. The deadline to apply for DUA benefits is November 16, 2017.