Townsend warns individuals voluntarily quitting to collect state and federal benefits
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
JOHNSTON – Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend announced Thursday that the state will cap the amount of unemployment claims that will not be charged to employers due to the coronavirus.
At Gov. Kim Reynolds daily press conference Thursday, Townsend said when the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund balance reaches $950 million, the state will once again start charging unemployment claims against employers.
The trust fund currently has a balance of $1.13 billion, so Townsend said that leaves about $180 million before the charges are triggered again against employers. She said last week alone the state paid out close to $27.5 million in unemployment claims and those claims are on the rise.
That math would indicate anywhere from four to seven weeks would remain before the move would take place depending on the rate of increased claims.
Townsend also sent out a stern warning to those voluntarily quitting jobs to collect the unemployment and a federal $600 per week additional stipend.
“You cannot voluntary quit your position, that is a disqualifier for these benefits,” she said.
Townsend said IWD staff is getting to calls and claims as fast as they can, and asked for patience. She said when calling wait for the ringing to stop, there will be small silent delay, and then someone will pick up the phone.
“I’d like to ask all Iowans to provide our hardworking dedicated staff the same patience and grace they would friends and neighbors,” Townsend said. “We will get to you and more important, we will get your claims paid.”
Reynolds got a bit stern as well, when questioned by a pool reporter who wanted to know what additional assumptions are being considered in addition to metrics for determining regional scores.
State officials have designated six regional zones and are assessing scores of up to 10 with a 10 being the highest risk score possible. Reynolds has said at several conferences that state leaders are looking at metrics including hospitalization, age, and resources to determine the scores, as well as other assumptions.
“People get so hung up on the metrics. Let’s go back to the main message. Stay home. Help me elevate that message and raise the volume,” she said taking off her glasses and talking straight to the camera.
“If we do that, these press conferences can be about how we can open things back up and get this state and country back to normal. Let’s focus on what we need to be doing and what we can do by being individually responsible.”
As of Thursday, Region 5, which includes southeast Iowa up to Johnson County and Iowa City, is at a score of 9. Region 6, which includes Linn County and Cedar Rapids, to the northern border, is at an 8, one point down from the 9 it had earlier this week.
Region 2 was at 7, Region 1 was an 8, and regions 3 and 4 were both at 6.
Reynolds updated Region 5 data saying 32 patients in the region are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, seven of which were newly hospitalized in the past 24 hours. There were 14 patients in ICUs and 11 on ventilators. There were 702 beds still available in the region, 93 in ICUs and 167 ventilators still available in the region.
“Iowa’s capacity is very good at this time. We’re monitoring information daily and if situations change we’re ready to respond,” Reynolds said.
She said the state is also continuing to monitor personal protective equipment supplies, but supplies are tight. Reynolds rattled off numbers of Iowa manufacturers who are helping make face shields, masks, and hand sanitizer that are helping with supply issues.
“PPE continues to be an issue and we’re monitoring it carefully and getting supplies where they are needed most, but we can’t let up for a second. We have to dig deep and do our part to answer the call,” she said.
The state has also received 15 Abbott Lab testing machines which give results in about five minutes. Reynolds said health experts are now determining where the state would get the best usage out of the machines and the limited testing supplies on hand.
In the past 24 hours the state reported 125 new cases bringing the total positives in the state to 1,270 with no new counties discovering positive COVID cases. There were 882 negative cases in the past 24 hours and the State Hygienic Lab has testing capability for 2,532 tests currently.
Two additional deaths were reported out of Linn County bringing the state total to 29, while 115 remain hospitalized and 476 have recovered from the illness, according to state data.