Steps to get Iowa jobless benefits changing

This article was originally published by Erin Murphy on The Gazette on Dec, 2021.

DES MOINES — Changes to Iowa’s unemployment process — including a doubling of the number of work searches a person must make in order to qualify for benefits — will go into effect Jan. 9, the state announced Monday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds had previously announced changes were coming, which she and Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend say were crafted to get unemployed Iowans back to work faster.

“Like other states across the country, Iowa is experiencing a significant workforce shortage,” Reynolds said in a statement. “We are taking a holistic approach in revitalizing our reemployment process to ensure that Iowans have the access they need to match them with the successful career paths and opportunities that await them across our state.”

Under the new program, newly unemployed individuals:

•Must conduct four work searches per week, up from two.

•Will have 12 types of work searches that qualify, down from 27.

•Must work on the job search with a case manager.

“Our goal with (the new unemployment program) is to give unemployed workers both extra help and extra incentive to find a new career path as quickly as possible,” Townsend said in a statement. “Iowa needs its people working, and we’ll do whatever we can to help get you there.”

The new program requirements initially will apply only to those filing a new unemployment claim, then will expand to those who have been receiving unemployment benefits for 13 weeks or more. Union members are exempt from the program, per state law, the state workforce department said.

The state will hire 18 case managers — that state is calling them career planners — to work with unemployed Iowans seeking unemployment benefits. Those case managers will meet individually with unemployed individuals seeking benefits and attempt to connect them with training and educational opportunities in high-demand careers, and to match the individual with an open job.

Officials encouraged applicants to respond quickly when contacted by a case manager seeking information for the program. “Failure to respond to phone calls from Career Planners could delay the process of helping claimants find new work — and ultimately, could lead to unemployment claims being frozen until the proper information is provided,” a news release said.

The department said the new unemployment program was designed based on “proven national models.”

There were 1.54 million Iowans working in October, the highest number yet in 2021. But that still lags by nearly 54,000 workers the 1.59 million Iowans who were working in January of 2020, just before the pandemic hit, according to state workforce data.

Iowa’s non-farm workforce dropped by more than 181,000, a reduction of more than 11 percent, during the first four months of the pandemic as businesses reduced hours or closed temporarily to accommodate public health strategies meant to slow the virus’ spread.

Iowa’s unemployment rate in October was 3.9 percent. It has fluctuated between 3.6 and 4.1 percent this year.