Bill would cut unemployment benefits for large families, require more job searches

By: - February 27, 2023 4:09 pm

Unemployed Iowans would be required to complete between four to six "work searches" to stay eligible for benefits, the bill proposes. (Photo by Getty Images)

A bill imposing new restrictions on unemployment benefits for out-of-work Iowans advanced out of the Senate Workforce Committee Monday.

Senate Study Bill 1159 passed 7-5 through the committee with an amendment. It would require unemployed workers complete between four to six “work searches” each week in order to continue receiving benefits, depending on how many job openings Iowa Workforce Development lists.

It also would cut benefits for large families and tighten rules for waivers on job searches for workers who face seasonal layoffs.

“Work search” activities include applying for jobs by submitting resumes or applications to employers, job interviews, and taking military aptitude or civil service exams. Iowans on unemployment are already required to complete four valid reemployment activities, three of which must be job applications, each week. The amendment brings the bill’s “work search” definition in line with IWD offerings, Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, said, in addition to putting implementation of the bill on a longer timeframe.

But Democrats said that the new job search requirements will make Iowa a less desirable state for workers. The legislation comes after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed changes to Iowa’s unemployment system into law in 2022, requiring workers accept lower-paying jobs earlier in their search, requiring a one-week waiting period before receiving unemployment and shortening the maximum eligibility window by 10 weeks.

The bill adds burdens on top of those passed last year, Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo said, and specifically creates difficulties for workers in fields with regular layoffs. While the bill waives work search requirements for people expecting to be called back to work by a former employer for short-term temporary layoffs due to seasonal weather conditions, it strikes the language allowing employers request an two-week extension of waiving that requirement due to “unforeseen circumstances beyond the employer’s control.”

That language does not take into account how manufacturing businesses lay off and rehire workers due of issues like inventory adjustments, Dotzler said. Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, echoed his comments, saying the provision would hurt Iowa trade businesses, preventing them from holding onto a skilled workforce.

“An example would be a window cleaning company that has far fewer residential customers in the wintertime than they do the summertime,” Boulton said. “But they want skilled people to come back, they have a pretty heavy training load to make sure that these employees do things safely…”

Iowa is facing a workforce shortage in building trades, Boulton added.

“Their concern is you’re pushing people out of this profession, at a time when we need people engaged in the building construction trades,” he said. “When we have a lot of what we hope to see in economic growth and development across our state, we’re pushing people towards these job searches and telling them they need to accept these short-term employment opportunities.”

Another provision in the bill would cut maximum weekly benefits for unemployed Iowans with three or more dependents. Iowa’s current system provides an Iowan with no dependents a maximum of 53% of the statewide average weekly wage. Those with one child can claim 57%; 60% for three children and 65% for four or more. The bill limits Iowans with dependents to 57% of their weekly wage, regardless of how many dependents they have.

Dickey said in a subcommittee meeting the measure was meant to discourage people from falsely claiming more dependents in order to receive more benefits, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette. But Democrats argued the measure will only hurt larger families.

“The only rationale that I was able to hear on this is that it’s difficult for the department to manage if someone was telling the truth on the number of dependents they may have,” Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids said, “However, I’d like to just point (out) that reducing earned benefits when families need them is most inappropriate.”

The bill is now available for debate by the full Senate.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.