Many people complain about the taxes we pay to fund various social programs, but we sometimes forget to take advantage of these programs when we become eligible for them. One such example is the program that working expecting or new mothers can qualify for in California: the California State Disability Insurance (SDI) program offered by the Employment Development Department (EDD).
California is one of the states that provides a short-term disability insurance program for employees. Most employers are required to participate in the state’s SDI program and employees are automatically funding the program through payroll withholding. Employees can see whether they have been paying into the program by checking their pay stub for a withholding to “CA Disability” or “CA SDI.” Because the benefits for SDI are based on the wages earned during your “base period,” which is approximately 6-18 months before disability claim begins, employees must pay into the system for at least 6 months to receive benefits.
Employees become eligible to file short-term disability claims when they are temporarily unable to work due to disability, including pregnancy. In the case of pregnancy, there are 2 complementary programs that can apply: Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave (PFL).
Disability Insurance eligibility starts when the employee is no longer able to work due to pregnancy. For normal pregnancy, the typical disability period is up to 4 weeks before the expected due date and up to 6 weeks after the actual delivery (for normal delivery.) However, factors such as age, occupation, job limitation, medical condition and the physician’s/practitioner’s certification may grant additional weeks. There is a 7-calendar day waiting period before benefit starts and the application (including any medical certification) must be submitted within 49 days after disability begins. For example, Margaret’s job requires that she stands for long stretches of time. At 5 weeks before her due date, her doctor certifies that she is no longer able to do her job because of her pregnancy. At that time, she may apply for disability insurance though she will still need to wait 7-calendar days before the benefit starts. If Margaret eventually delivers the baby through a C-section, her doctor may also certify that a longer recover time on disability is medically necessary.
After Disability Insurance benefits are exhausted, the new mother and father can qualify for paid family leave. PFL can provide employees an additional 6-weeks of partial pay while the new parents care for and bond with the child. Eligible parents include new mothers after their pregnancy-related DI claim ends, new mothers (who did not previously have a pregnancy-related DI claim), fathers when their baby enters the household, and new parents of foster or adopted children. New mothers transitioning from a DI pregnancy claim to PFL bonding will receive a Claim for Paid Family Leave (PFL) Benefits – New Mother (DE 2501FP) in a separate envelope at the same time the final DI payment is issued. In the case of Margaret, she can transition directly from SDI to PFL without another 7-days waiting because the 7-days for SDI counts toward PFL when she takes both for the same reason.
The benefit amount is approximately 55% of the usual compensation during the base period, subject to a cap. In most cases, the base period is the 12-month or 4-quarter period that ends before the most recent complete quarter. This unnecessarily complicated statement means that, if Margaret starts her disability on November 15, 2016, the most recent complete quarter is July – August 2016 and the base period for her is July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. The state uses the highest-paid calendar quarter during the base period to calculate benefits. For those with irregular income, it may become important when the claim is filed within the 49-day window. EDD has a webpage that explains the calculation of the benefits in more detail.