Iowa legislators who say they’re concerned about the state’s worker shortage are trying to pass a new law restricting unemployment benefits in a move both seasonal workers and union officials say would force more workers to leave the state.
House File 2355 would lessen the number of weeks someone who is laid off through no fault of their own can collect unemployment benefits from 26 weeks—the standard among US states—to just 16 weeks, or from six months to four.
A similar bill also passed in the Iowa Senate, though with a one-week delay in getting benefits after a layoff. The chambers must come to a consensus before the bill heads to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk. She’s indicated her support for the proposal.
“When we have more jobs available than we have people on unemployment, we need to take a look at a system that was put in place during a much, much different time in our history,” Reynolds said earlier this month.
That’s despite widespread opposition among Iowa’s unions, which represent tens of thousands of the state’s workers.
“Once the House and Senate versions of this bill are reconciled, Iowans will see their hard-earned unemployment benefits slashed by over two months,” the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO said in a statement on Friday.
The bill would especially impact those in seasonal trades, such as construction, said Felicia Hilton, political director of North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.
“There is just a big lack of understanding in a state full of working-class people,” Hilton said. “It sends a message to folks in the trades—they can work in another state and not have to deal with this treatment.”
She noted other Upper Midwest states her organization covers provide for 26 weeks because of long winters and otherwise inclement weather that disrupts construction jobs. Only five Southern states and Kansas provide 16 weeks or fewer.
But there are other temporary jobs in which Iowans need more than that, said Sami Scheetz, a former campaign staffer. Scheetz said he and others working on campaigns “relied on unemployment benefits between jobs.”
“After the 2020 election cycle, for example, I needed these benefits for over 20 weeks,” he said. “The proposed cut to 16 weeks would have impacted me directly. I would have had an extremely difficult time paying my bills without this vital financial support.”
Now the Democratic candidate for House District 78 in Cedar Rapids, Scheetz said the proposed cut was “a slap in the face to working Iowans.”
“Iowa Republicans need to stop playing politics with the livelihoods of hardworking Iowans who are struggling through no fault of their own,” Scheetz said.
Hilton said the reasons Republicans have given her—trust fund insolvency has been cited, as well as a bid to encourage people to take more jobs—don’t make sense. The trust fund is “absolutely solvent,” she said, while Iowa’s 3.5% unemployment rate is the 20th lowest in the nation.
“In the end, it’s about money,” Hilton said. “The disconnect there in the legislature couldn’t be—I mean, it’s the Grand Canyon in there right now, the fact that they cannot relate to working people.”
By Amie Rivers
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