Reduction in Iowa’s unemployment benefits headed to governor

This article was originally published by Erin Murphy on The Gazette on Apr, 2022.

DES MOINES — Iowa will become just the fourth state with 16 weeks or fewer of state unemployment benefits under legislation that needs only Gov. Kim Reynolds’ signature to become law.

The reduction in state unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 16 was approved Tuesday by majority Republicans in the Iowa Legislature. Reynolds made a similar proposal earlier this year, and is likely to sign it into law.

“I just think we need to be doing everything we can to encourage people to stay in the workforce and to stay in the game,” Reynolds said Tuesday. “So we’re going to look at everything we can to really bolster that. And it’s a different environment than it was when a lot of those pieces of the (state unemployment laws) were put in place.”

Under the proposal, the most an unemployed job-seeker in Iowa can claim will be 16 weeks of jobless benefits. That would be longer only than three other states: Florida (12), North Carolina (12) and Alabama (14), according to state data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The number of weeks an Iowan who loses a job because the employer went out of business can receive benefits will be lowered from 39 weeks to 26.

“For Iowans who are unemployed, I believe they’re going to get into a job faster,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig who managed the legislation in the Senate. “More Iowans are going to get employed.”

The proposed legislation, House File 2355, on Tuesday passed the Iowa Senate on a 30-14 vote, with all Republicans supporting and all Democrats opposing. Earlier Tuesday, House Republicans used a procedural motion to reject the Senate bill and insist on their version of the bill.

The legislation also changes the requirements for taking a job that pays less than the unemployed Iowan’s previous job.

Now, a person receiving unemployment benefits has six weeks before having to accept a lower paying job. The proposal would shorten that time frame. After one week, a person on unemployment would have to accept a job offering 90 percent of previous wages. That would drop to 80 percent after three weeks and 75 percent after five weeks, and to 60 percent of the previous wage after eight weeks.

“It’s another slap in the face to Iowa workers,” said Sen. Zach Wahls, the leader of the minority Senate Democrats from Coralville. “We believe it will continue to exacerbate the Reynolds workforce crisis that’s gripping literally every industry here in our state.”

Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, leader of the minority House Democrats from Windsor Heights, also disputed supporters’ argument that the legislation will help address Iowa’s worker shortage.

“Instead of working to fix Iowa’s workforce shortage crisis, Republican lawmakers passed a bill negotiated behind closed doors with special interests to take away earned unemployment from Iowans who lost a job through no fault of their own,” Konfrst said in a statement.

The legislation will not delay the start of unemployment benefits by one week, as Senate Republicans had proposed. That one-week delay was a sticking point between Senate and House Republicans.

The concession by Senate Republicans could be a signal that state lawmakers are making compromises that will help lead them to finishing their work for this year’s session.

“I am still a huge fan of holding off a week for employer unemployment benefits,” Schultz said. “But the decision was made, we’re getting toward the end of the session, we’ve got issues that are working back and forth, and there is a tremendous win for the workforce in Iowa in the current bill as sent to us by the House. So the decision was just made that you take the vast amount of win that we can, you don’t always get everything you want, and we just decided that we would let the House have this one.”

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