Deep Cuts to Unemployment Passes, Critics Say It Won’t Help Workforce Shortage

Iowa House screenshot

The Republican-run Iowa House agreed to cut benefits for unemployed workers by 10 weeks yesterday in a move critics say will cause an even further exodus of workers out of a state that desperately needs them.

The Iowa Legislature’s vote to cut unemployment benefits from 26 to 16 weeks is expected to be signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. It also lowers benefits from 39 weeks to 26 for workers who lost their jobs after a business closure.

“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 in March.

The bill lowers the maximum amount of time a worker who is unemployed through no fault of their own can claim benefits, as well as forces them to accept lower-paying work earlier in their unemployment tenure. Only five Southern states and Kansas allow a maximum of 16 weeks or fewer.

A contentious proposal that divided the Iowa House and Senate—a one-week delay in receiving unemployment—was eliminated from the final bill.

Republican legislators, echoing Reynolds, say the bill is a bid to help companies attract workers faster during an unprecedented post-pandemic labor shortage.

“For Iowans who are unemployed, I believe they’re going to get into a job faster,” Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, told the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “The closer you are to the job market from being just recently laid off, the more employable and more your mindset is to get back into the workforce.”

But Democrats and worker advocates say it’s not competitive with Iowa’s neighboring states, which will mean workers leaving the state for better job security, worsening the state’s worker shortage.

“This terrible bill is a slap in the face to Iowa workers and will exacerbate the Reynolds Workforce Crisis,” Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls of Coralville tweeted Tuesday.

“Iowans are strongly opposed to this bill because it is unfair and it will drive more workers out of the state,” House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst tweeted Tuesday. “Democrats believe the Legislature should focus on rewarding work, raising wages, making child care affordable, and lowering costs for families.”

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.”


By Amie Rivers

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