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Iowa Gov. Reynolds hopes rule changes will push jobless back to work



Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference at Iowa Spring Manufacturing, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Adel, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

ADEL, Iowa (AP) — Unemployed Iowans would be required to meet weekly with state case managers, conduct twice as many weekly work searches and undergo audits to prove they’re actively looking for work under a new proposal announced Wednesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Unemployment payments could be frozen if unemployed workers fail to meet the new criteria, an Iowa Workforce Development spokesman said.

“Unemployment benefits were never intended to provide long-term support and with the current workforce shortage exacerbated by COVID Iowa cannot afford for workers to be disconnected from our state’s economy,” IWD Director Beth Townsend said at a news conference at which she and Reynolds announced the proposed changes expected to be enacted next year.

The event was held at Iowa Spring Manufacturing, a factory in Adel that manufactures springs for garage doors, agricultural equipment and other devices. Tim Bianco, the president and CEO of the company who attended the gathering, has donated to Reynolds and other Republican candidates.

Townsend said more than 86,500 job openings are posted on the IWD website spanning all industries statewide. She said nearly 68,000 Iowans remain unemployed.

Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Neighboring Minnesota’s minimum wage is set to go up again in 2022 to between $10.08 and $10.33 an hour depending on the employer size.

Historically, Iowa workforce officials wait for unemployed people to come to them to request assistance, but given today’s high demand for workers, the state must be more proactive in helping the unemployed get back to work, she said.

Reynolds was among several Republican governors to cut off extended federal unemployment benefits to jobless workers last spring. The state ended the additional $300-a-week unemployment payment in June even though it was scheduled to run through early September.

Reynolds said the benefits were causing a labor shortage — a charge echoed by conservative groups and Republican governors in Alabama, Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina.

Data released in September by the U.S. Department of Labor suggested there was little difference in job growth in states that ended benefits early and those that kept the benefits in place.

The number of unemployed Iowans actually increased by 300 in August to 67,900, but that was still 18,100 lower than the year-ago level of 86,000. Iowa’s unemployment rate remained at 4.1% in August, down from 5.3% a year ago. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.2% in August.

Townsend said the agency will hire 18 more workers to meet with and monitor the progress of unemployed Iowans.

Sen. Nate Boulton, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Labor & Business Relations Committee, questioned Reynolds’ approach.

“Reynolds’ idea of having the government assign jobs to Iowa workers is all wrong,” Boulton said.

He said the state should be partnering with underemployed and unemployed Iowans to help them find the right jobs for them and their families.

Reynolds also said the state would spend $30 million in federal funds to provide grants to help manufacturers retain existing workers and recruit new employees.

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