The SDI Benefit
SDI generally pays 55% of your wages for up to 52 weeks of disability. How does SDI figure out what number to use for your wages? If for example, you made $24,000 last year and $48,000 two years ago, which number would they use? SDI solves this problem by looking at your wages in a specific 12 month period of time. The idea here is to get a sense of your average wages. The 12 months they look at starts roughly 17 months before you become disabled and ends about 5 months before you become disabled. Those 12 months are called your base period. For an exact description of the months they look at, click here. They take that 12 month base period and divide it into 4 quarters. The quarter when you had the highest earnings is the quarter they use to determine your benefit amount.
You became disabled in January of 2016. Looking at the chart, your base period will be from October 1, 2014, to September 30, 2015. SDI divides your base period in 4 quarters, and looks at your wages during those quarters:
- In October, November, and December of 2014, you had $1,000 in wages.
- In January, February, and March of 2015, you had $13,000 in wages.
- In April, May, and June of 2015, you had no wages.
- In July, August, and September of 2015, you had $11,000 in wages.
SDI uses the quarter in which you had the highest wages to determine the amount of your benefit, in this case, $13,000 in January, February, and March of 2015.
SDI will figure out your weekly wages during the quarter of your base period when you had the highest wages. They’ll then multiply that amount by 55% to figure out your weekly benefit amount.
Note: If you qualify, you will always get at least $50 per week in benefits, no matter how low your earned income was in your highest quarter of earnings. The maximum weekly benefit amount is $1,129.
In the above example, SDI figured out that your maximum quarterly wages were $13,000. Since a quarter of a year is 13 weeks (52 weeks ÷ 4), you made $1,000 per week during that quarter ($13,000 ÷ 13). Your weekly SDI benefit amount is 55% of these weekly wages, or $550 per week ($1,000 × .55).
There are situations when SDI realizes that your wages were low due to circumstances beyond your control. In these cases, you may be able to substitute wages from a previous quarter, allowing you to get a higher SDI benefit or helping you qualify if your wages were not high enough for you to qualify for SDI. These situations include:
- Military service
- Receiving Workers’ Compensation
- Not working because of a labor dispute
- Unemployment for greater than 60 days during a quarter (only applies if you did not qualify for SDI initially)
You generally get your first benefit check within 2 weeks of filing your claim. You’ll then get a check every two weeks until your benefit period is over. Some of your checks will come with a form, called a “continued claim certification”. This form asks you to give SDI information about whether you are still disabled, have returned to work part or full time, or have received any other income. It’s important to tell SDI about these things, otherwise, they may give you a benefit that’s more than you are eligible for. This is called an overpayment, and you will be responsible for paying it back.
Your benefit period generally ends on the date your medical provider indicated on the initial claim form. When that date comes, SDI will send you a letter telling you that your benefit is ending. If you are still unable to return to work at that time, you and your medical provider can fill out a form extending your benefit period.
SDI is meant to replace income for up to 52 weeks. That means that you can receive a benefit up until the point when 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 that the maximum benefit period for Elective Coverage is 39 weeks and you can only get up to 6 weeks of Paid Family Leave per year.
If you return to work part-time, your SDI benefit can continue. If the amount of money you have from your SDI benefit plus your part-time wages is less than your weekly wages just before your disability began, you’ll continue to receive the full SDI benefit:
Your weekly wages were $1,000 right before your disability, and you are getting $550 a week in SDI. You return to work part-time and get $300 in wages. You have $850 between your part-time wages and SDI benefit. Since this is less than the $1,000 you were making before your disability, you’ll continue to receive the full SDI benefit.
If your part-time wages plus SDI benefit are greater than your pre-disability wages, your SDI will be adjusted accordingly.
As above, your weekly wages were $1,000 before your disability and your SDI benefit amount is $550 a week. You return to work and make $700 a week. If your SDI benefit stayed at $550, you’d be making $1,250 a week, which is more than you made working full time! To make sure your total income is not greater than your weekly wages of $1,000, SDI decreases your benefit amount to $300 a week, which means you’ll have that $300, plus the $700 in wages, giving you the $1,000 that you made before you became disabled.
Other Benefit Reductions
Your benefit might be reduced for other reasons besides 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:
- Holiday pay
- Sick Leave pay
- Workers’ Compensation payments
- Military Pay
- Other income
Note: SDI does not count vacation time income.
If you get a partial benefit, you can get it until the total amount of your benefit is paid, even if that’s longer than 52 weeks.
You get an SDI benefit of $100 a week. That means that you are entitled to 52 weeks of that benefit, or $5,200. Six months into the year, you’ll 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’ll get that benefit until you’ve received that $2,600, which will be in another year.
Paid Family Leave (PFL)
PFL is part of the SDI program. There are no separate premiums that you pay, and if you’re eligible for SDI, you’re eligible for PFL. There are a few special rules for PFL:
- PFL uses a different claim form.
- If you are taking PFL to care for a sick relative, a doctor has to certify their illness.
- You can only get six weeks of PFL per year.
- PFL doesn’t necessarily protect your job, although some employers have to follow state and federal laws about leave.
SDI considers pregnancy a condition that can prevent you from working. 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 indicate that on the initial claim form, in which case it is treated just like any other medical condition that prevents you from working.
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.
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. For more information about Pregnancy Disability Leave, contact the EDD.
- Getting SDI does not stop an employer from firing you while you’re on SDI benefits. SDI suggests contacting the Department of Industrial Relations or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to find out more about your rights.
- SDI also does not stop an employer from ending your health coverage while you’re on SDI benefits. You may be able to continue your health 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.
- When in doubt, SDI generally encourages people to file a claim.
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).