The SDI/PFL Benefit

Benefit Amount

SDI generally pays 60-70% of your average wages for up to 52 weeks of having a disability. However, your income may change from month to month, season to season, or year to year, making it hard to know what your exact average weekly income has been.

When SDI looks at your earnings to figure out how much you should get in benefits, they look at how much you earned in the 12 months between:

  • Roughly 17 months before your disability started and
  • About 5 months before your disability started.

These 12 months are called your base period. To get SDI benefits you must have earned at least $300 in your base period and you must have paid SDI taxes on those earnings.

SDI then takes that 12-month base period and divides it into four quarters. The quarter when you earned the most money is the quarter they use to decide your benefit amount. Learn more about the SDI base period.

Example

Your disability began in January of 2020, which means that your base period will be from October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019. SDI divides your base period in 4 quarters, and looks at your wages during those quarters:

  • In October, November, and December of 2018, you had $1,000 in wages.
  • In January, February, and March of 2019, you had $13,000 in wages.
  • In April, May, and June of 2019, you had no wages.
  • In July, August, and September of 2019, you had $11,000 in wages.

You earned the most ($13,000) in January, February, and March of 2019, so that is the income SDI will use to figure how much to give you in benefit payments.

SDI takes the quarter when you earned the most money, and calculates your average weekly wages during that time. Your weekly SDI benefits will usually be 60-70% of those average weekly wages, with a minimum benefit of $50 per week and a maximum of $1,300.

Note: The exact benefit calculation is based on a sliding scale from 60-70%. People with very low income usually get the higher percentage, while most people get the lower percentage.

Example

In the above example, SDI figured out that your maximum quarterly wages were $13,000. Since a quarter of a year is 13 weeks, you made $1,000 per week during that quarter ($13,000 ÷ 13). Your weekly SDI benefit amount is about 60% of these weekly wages, or $600 per week ($1,000 × .60).

Exceptions for the base period

SDI allows for the fact that your wages could have been low during your base period because of things beyond your control. It's possible to use your wages from a quarter before the standard base period, giving you a higher SDI benefit or helping you qualify if your wages were not high enough for you to qualify for SDI.

You might be able to use your income from an earlier quarter if you were:

  • In the military
  • Receiving Workers’ Compensation
  • Not working because of a labor dispute
  • Unemployed for more than 60 days during a quarter (this only applies if you did not qualify for SDI at the time)

Benefit Period

You generally get your first benefit payment within two weeks of filing your claim and you'll get payments every two weeks until your benefit period is over. Most people get their payments through a debit card that you can use to buy things or that you can set to automatically deposit your benefit to a bank account. If you prefer, you can choose to get checks mailed to you.

Your benefit period usually ends on the date your doctor/medical provider listed on your claim form as the date by which you should be able to go back to work. When that date comes, SDI tells you that your benefit is ending. If you still can't work because of your disability, you and your medical provider can fill out a form asking for a longer benefit period.

While you are getting benefit payments, EDD will periodically ask you to file a "continued claim certification," which can be done online through your SDI Online account or by mail. You must tell EDD immediately if you have returned to part-time or full-time work, recovered from your disaiblity, or get any other type of income. You must also immediately report the death of a person getting SDI payments. If you do not tell EDD, they may pay you more than you are supposed to get. This is called an overpayment, and they will make you pay it back.

SDI is meant to replace income for up to 52 weeks. That means that you can receive a benefit up until you have been paid 52 times your weekly benefit amount. If you’re working part-time or have your benefit reduced for another reason, you can receive a benefit for longer than 52 weeks. See the next section for details if you work part-time.

Note: The maximum benefit period for Elective Coverage is 39 weeks, and you can only get up to 8 weeks of Paid Family Leave per year.

Part-time Work

If you return to work part-time, you might continue to get SDI benefits. If the total amount of money you get from SDI benefits plus your part-time work is less than what you earned each week just before your disability began, you’ll continue to get your full SDI benefit amount.

Example

You earned $1,000 a week right before your disability, and you are getting $700 weekly in SDI. You go back to work part-time and earn $200 a week. Adding together your part-time wages and SDI benefit, you get $900 a week. Since this is less than the $1,000 you were making before your disability, you still get the full SDI benefit.

If your part-time wages plus SDI benefit are more than than what you earned before your disability began, your SDI payment goes down.

Example

You earned $1,000 a week before your disability and your SDI benefit amount is $700 a week. You go back to work and make $600 a week. If your SDI benefit stayed at $700, that would be $1,300 a week total, which is more than you made working full time. To make sure your total income is not more than your weekly wage of $1,000, SDI cuts your benefit amount to $400 a week, which means you have that $400 plus the $600 you earn, giving you the $1,000 that you made before you became disabled.

Other Benefit Reductions

Your benefit might go down for reasons other than part-time work. SDI counts certain other types of income like they were wages. Depending on your situation, some or all of the following may reduce your SDI benefit:

  • Commissions
  • Bonuses
  • Holiday pay
  • Sick Leave pay
  • Workers’ Compensation payments
  • Military Pay
  • Other income

SDI does not count vacation time income. Note: Any type of income must be reported to SDI, even if it does not affect your benefit payments.

If you get a partial benefit, you can get it until the total amount of your benefit is paid, even if that takes longer than 52 weeks.

Example

You get an SDI benefit of $100 a week, which means that you are entitled to 52 weeks of that benefit, or $5,200. In 6 months, you have been paid half that amount, or $2,600. If you go back to work part-time and your benefit goes down to $50 a week, you get that $50 benefit until you’ve been paid $2,600 in benefits, which will be in another year.

Paid Family Leave (PFL)

PFL is part of the SDI program. You do not pay separately for PFL: if you've had SDI taxes taken out of your paychecks, then you can get PFL to care for a seriously ill relative (child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner) or to bond with a new child.

Weekly PFL benefit amounts are calculated the same as for SDI, using a base period and calculating your average weekly wages during the quarter when you earned the most money. And like SDI, your benefit amount may go down if you get income from other sources, like sick leave, holiday pay, commissions, or bonuses.

However, there are some differences for PFL:

  • PFL uses a different claim form. EDD provides videos explaining how to apply for PFL online and how to apply for PFL by mail.
  • If you are taking PFL to care for a sick relative, a doctor has to certify their illness.
  • You can only get 8 weeks of PFL per year.
    • Note: Before July 1, 2020, you could only have 6 weeks of PFL per year.
  • PFL doesn’t necessarily protect your job, although some employers have to follow state and federal laws about leave.
  • There is no 7-day waiting period for PFL.

Pregnancy

SDI views pregnancy as a condition that can stop you from being able to work. For pregnancies without complications, the benefit period is generally from 4 weeks before your due date to 6 weeks after delivery. If your pregnancy or recovery prevents you from working beyond that time, your doctor needs to show that on the claim form, and then it is treated just like any other medical condition that stops you from working. EDD answers frequently asked questions about SDI and pregnancy

After you have your child, you don’t then have to apply for a separate PFL claim for time off to bond with your new child. They will send you a form to fill out after your SDI benefit ends. You’ll have the same benefit check as you did during your pregnancy. So, if you are covered by SDI and have a pregnancy without complications, you’ll get SDI for 4 weeks before and 6 weeks after giving birth, and then have the option of getting a PFL benefit for more time to bond with your child for an additional 6 weeks. EDD provides a video with step-by-step instructions for transfering from SDI to PFL.

Note: This article focuses on SDI for people with disabilities and Paid Family Leave (PFL) for people taking care of a person with a disability. If you have questions about Pregnancy Disability Leave, contact the EDD.

Other topics related to SDI
  • Getting SDI does not stop an employer from firing you while you’re on SDI benefits. If this happens, SDI suggests contacting the Department of Industrial Relations or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to learn more about your rights.
  • SDI also does not stop an employer from ending your health insurance coverage while you’re on SDI benefits. You may be able to find more affordable health coverage through Covered California or pay to keep your current coverage through COBRA.
  • The SDI website is an excellent resource for questions related to the program. They have detailed FAQs that cover a wide range of topics.
  • If you aren't sure if you should file a claim, go ahead and file. The SDI program encourages people to apply.

Note: DB101 cannot answer your questions about your SDI claim. If you want to apply for SDI, or have questions about your claim, please contact the California Employment Development Department (EDD).