This guide will walk you through the process of applying for pandemic unemployment insurance for people who are self-employed. (Street Spirit vendors fall within this category.) It also contains useful resources for obtaining the documents you need to apply.

To address the economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the state of California is now allowing all self-employed individuals to apply for unemployment benefits. You qualify as self-employed if:

  • You are a street newspaper vendor, or another type of street vendor
  • You are self-employed
  • You own your own business
  • You preform another type of informal labor performed without a contract.

If you are unable to work because of the pandemic, or if your income was reduced because of the economic impacts of the pandemic, the federal government will supplement your unemployment insurance with an additional $600 per week in benefits. 

The federal “pandemic unemployment assistance” currently spans the months of March 2020 to July 2020. You must apply as soon as possible to receive benefits. While there is technically no deadline to apply, the government will stop paying out pandemic benefits after July 31. If you are approved, you will retroactively receive unemployment “back-pay” covering all the weeks you were unable to work due to the pandemic. 

The state of California does not require documentation of your wages at this time, due to the large number of unemployment claims. However, to qualify for assistance you must have earned at least $900 in income over any three-month period in the past year, combined across all jobs you performed. You must also have earned at least $1,125 in total income for the entire year. Simply register on the Employment Development Department website (which can he found here) and fill out an application, If you are approved the EDD will mail you a prepaid Bank of America debit card containing your income assistance funds. Typical wait time for your application to be processed is 4-6 weeks. 

Here’s what you need to sign up.

First, you will need your Social Security number.

If you do not have your Social Security number for any reason, you will need a government issued ID and a mailing address to request a new card from the Social Security Administration. This task can be accomplished online. (If you need help getting a mailing address, keep reading, some places are listed below.)

Next, you need to access the EDD website.

You will need access to a smartphone or computer with an internet connection in order to access the EDD website. The EDD isn’t accepting paper forms.

Even though libraries are currently closed, you can still connect to the internet outside most libraries when sitting outside. Certain cellphones are also able to produce wifi hotspots.

You will also need an email address.

You will need an email address in order to make an account on the EDD website. Your account will allow you to check on the status of your application after you’ve submitted all your information, and you will be notified when you need to “Certify For Benefits” each week that you are unable to work due to the pandemic. 

Lastly, you need a mailing address to receive your EDD Debit Card.

There are several places where you can sign up for a mailing address if you are living unsheltered. Amongst other options, you can go to the Berkeley Drop in Center in South Berkeley or sign up to receive mail through Catholic Worker. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for more information about how to sign up for a mailing address.)

Once you have collected all the above information, you will be ready to apply for your stimulus check. Here’s the EDD form you need to enroll in Benefits Program Online and apply for Unemployment Insurance. You can access this form from the EDD home page ( by clicking “Log in” at the top-right corner, and then Log In/Register under “Benefits Program Online” (make sure to sign in under “Benefits Program Online” and NOT “Employer Services Online”).

You must create a password and a “personal caption” based on a random pair of images generated when you sign up. Every time you log in, you will be shown this caption to make sure you are signing into the right account. Write this information down and store it in a safe place.

The application is long, but you may save your progress at any time by clicking “Save As Draft” at the bottom of the screen, and return at a later time. 

Under the section of the application called “Last Employer Information”, you will be asked “Did you work for any employer in the last 18 months?” If you are a self-employed individual, or you performed informal work without a written contract, then your answer to this question will be NO. 

Under the section of the application called “Availability Information” you will be asked to provide information about the type of work you performed. When you click the “Add Work Type” button, you will have the ability to search for different categories of employment that your work may fall under. For example, if you are a “street vendor” (i.e., you sell copies of Street Spirit), search for the word “VENDOR” and select the option “VENDOR (retail trade)” with the description “NEWS AND STREET VENDORS.”

The final section of the application concerns “Disaster Information.” Here you will be asked how much you earned in 2019, and how the pandemic impacted your ability to work. You must report your total annual income across all jobs you performed. Make your best estimate of your income in 2019 based on whatever records you have. Remember that you must have earned a minimum of $1,125 in 2019 to be eligible for unemployment insurance.

The form also asks for additional forms of work you are able to perform. You may add additional types of work by clicking the second “Add Work Type” button and searching for a category that describes other jobs you performed. A sample form may look like this: 

If you are a vendor for the Street Spirit, put the Street Spirit’s business address (1515 Webster St., Suite 303, Oakland, CA 94612) as the “physical address of your business”—if the EDD asks for documentation from you in the future, we can provide a letter confirming that you are selling Street Spirit newspapers. In most cases, your unemployment start date will be March 19, 2020, the first day of the shelter-in-place order in the state of California. A sample form may look like this:


After you have successfully submitted your application, you will be asked to “certify weeks” that you were unable to work during the pandemic. This simply means you must confirm that you were unable to work that week due to the pandemic, and that you did not reject any job offers during that time. Be sure to check the EDD website regularly to ensure you certify for benefits in a timely manner and receive your benefits as soon as possible. A sample certification may look like this:


Night on the Streets Catholic Worker (Downtown Berkeley)

To receive mail through the Catholic Worker, you must first sign up with JC Orton. You can find him in his navy-blue van on the corner of Shattuck and Kittredge Monday-Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. The mail service is free of charge, and no government issued ID is required to retrieve mail.

For more information, you can call JC at (510) 684-1892.

Berkeley Drop in Center (South Berkeley)

To receive mail through the Berkeley Drop in Center, simply list their address as your mailing address:

3234 Adeline Street
Berkeley, CA 94703

You may pick up mail from the Berkeley Drop in Center on Mondays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

You must show your ID to pick up your mail.

Homeless Action Center (HAC)

If you are not already a client of HAC, you cannot have your regular mail sent here. However, you can send certain emergency documents to HAC even if you are not a client. These include ID cards and birth certificates. However, HAC is unable to accept your stimulus check *unless* you are already a client.

HAC is currently open from Monday to Thursday from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Simply list their address as the location for your ID to be delivered. Their addresses are:


3126 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705


2601 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

General Delivery Mail Service (San Francisco)

Anyone without a permanent address can have their mail delivered to any United States Postal Office that accepts General Delivery. In San Francisco, that address is:

391 Ellis Street San Francisco, CA 94102

To pick up your mail, you will need a government issued ID with a first and last name that matches the name on your mail. More information about general delivery here.

Resources for undocumented people in the Bay Area

The following document contains a variety of migrant-focused COVID-19 resources.(Compiled by East Oakland Dreamers.)

Este documente tiene una variedad de recursos de corona virus para migrantes.(Compilado por East Oakland Dreamers.)

Governor Newsom has also instituted a disaster relief assistance for undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19. You can apply for a one-time payment of $500 through local non-profit agencies. In the Bay Area, those are the local branches of Catholic Charities of California in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. The deadline to apply is June 30.

Learn more about one-time disaster relief assistance for undocumented Californians here.

El gobernador Newsom también ha instituido una asistencia de ayuda financiera por el desastre para los californianos indocumentados afectados por COVID–19. Pueden recibir $500 para cada persona a través de agencias locales sin fines de lucro una vez. En el Área de la Bahía, esas son las oficinas locales de Caridades Católicas de California en Alameda, Contra Costa, Marín, San Francisco, San Mateo y Santa Clara. La fecha límite para solicitar es el 30 de junio.

Obtenga más información sobre la asistencia única de ayuda por desastre para los californianos indocumentados aquí.