BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DES MOINES – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced today that the state will step away from many of the federal jobless benefits propping up displaced workers during the pandemic.
The state will halt four federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs including: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) effective the week ending June 12.
The state will continue to provide regular state unemployment benefits to those eligible.
“Federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs initially provided displaced Iowans with crucial assistance when the pandemic began,” Gov. Reynolds said.
“But now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work. Our unemployment rate is at 3.7 percent, vaccines are available to anyone who wants one, and we have more jobs available than unemployed people.”
Lee County Economic Development Group President Dennis Fraise said across the board this is the worst jobs landscape in decades and in his opinion it’s time to reassess those benefit packages.
“There’s no question that almost all of our employers have openings. If you want a job, there is a job for you. It may not align with what you need or require, but a lot of our employers are struggling to find enough people,” Fraise said.
“There are a lot of people through the pandemic that were, and still are, hurting and I think the extra unemployment was certainly a needed and necessary component of the recovery. But if we lower back to a normal amount of employment will it have a positive impact? My guess is that’s going to be part it.”
The governor also said effective June 13, 2021, Iowa will no longer waive employer charges for COVID-related unemployment insurance claims.
“Regular unemployment benefits will remain available, as they did before the pandemic, but it’s time for everyone who can to get back to work,” Reynolds said. “This country needs to look to the future, and Iowa intends to lead the way.”
Fraise said it’s not a local or even statewide issue. He said most of the nation is rethinking the current federal benefits structure.
“A lot of states are taking a hard look at unemployment benefits and I would think it has something to do with the recent jobs report,” Fraise said.
“There was disappointment in the number of jobs created, but we need more data to know what the relationship is. In my opinion, it is time to roll it back. If it puts more people into the workforce, then it’s time to do that.”
Fraise said he was sympathetic to the people who’ve been hit hardest by the pandemic, but if the economy is opening back up and you can still make more money staying at home, then the programs need reevaluated.
He has also been vocal about the county needing to take steps to stem off what he calls a “cold winter” for employers.
“This is the tip of the iceberg and in the next decade winter could be here. The pandemic has exasperated that situation because there have been so many unforeseen consequences,” he said.
“This is the worst time a lot of our employers have had, and that’s from fast food, to downtown businesses, to resorts, to industrial. It’s across the board and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a cycle like this.”
State Sen. Jeff Reichman (R-Montrose) said he supported the move and said Reynolds has been a leader among the nation’s governors in handling the pandemic.
“Iowa was named the No. 2 state in the country in getting back open,” Reichman said. “She’s doing the right thing here.”
State Rep. Martin Graber (R-Fort Madison) said he’s spoken with other legislators around the state and no one is saying they have too many employees.
“Just like school, if we want to get to a sense of normalcy, we have to get back to normal. There are lots of positives here and Iowa’s employers need people. We just have to get back to work.”
“There are lots of jobs out there. There are vaccines available if you want one,” he said.