Iowa’s Unemployment Services Get Upgrade, Thanks to American Rescue Plan Grants

President Joe Biden speaks during an event to celebrate labor unions, in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Iowa is one of five states that will receive new money to upgrade software, reduce backlogs, identify fraud and increase training at their state employment offices, thanks to a round of grants courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) will receive $2,937,757 from the US Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration in “equity grants.”

The grants are designed to “implement projects that seek to remove barriers related to race, age, ethnicity, language proficiency, disability status, geographic location or other systemic issues and enable those in need to access unemployment insurance benefits,” according to the USDOL.

Specifically, that money is supposed to “support projects that promote awareness, simplify instructions, provide translation services, enhance technology, increase staffing and address other needs specific to disadvantaged communities,” according to the federal government.

In a Thursday release announcing the funding, Iowa Workforce Development said they would be applying the money toward the following:

  • More options and features for IWD’s phone system, “including call transcription and analysis;”
  • Processing a “COVID-related backlog” of claims;
  • Identify workers “who are being misclassified under the law,” after employees noticed a “number of people who filed for special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but who were not previously working as covered employees;”
  • Updating public materials, including videos, and adding translations of some material into other languages;
  • Adding employee training “to increase awareness of diverse populations and audiences.”

The languages to be translated and material and training to be added were not specified in the release. An IWD spokesperson told Starting Line part of the funding will be used to evaluate which materials need to be translated into which languages.

“Iowa Workforce Development is grateful to receive this award, which will help our agency make targeted improvements in multiple areas,” said Beth Townsend, Director of Iowa Workforce Development. “This award will help us make unique enhancements to improve the way we deliver unemployment benefits and will increase the viability of core agency services over the long term.”

The federal government made $260 million in grant funding, allocated through ARPA, available to states for equity in unemployment in August 2021. So far, it has granted $133 million of that to 25 states and the District of Columbia.

ARPA was not supported by Republicans representing Iowa, including Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra and Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Only Iowa’s lone Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne voted for the bill.

Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds also did not support ARPA, but has frequently touted the money coming into Iowa from it. Usually, press releases from state agencies receiving the money only include that information at the very bottom, or—in the case with this week’s IWD release—is not mentioned at all unless a user clicks a “for more information” link.


By Amie Rivers

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