Iowans react to pandemic related unemployment benefits coming to an end

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 6:53 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Gov. Kim Reynolds announced this morning the extra $300 per week people have been getting in pandemic-related federal unemployment will be coming to an end in the state on June 12.

Reynolds said the benefits are, “discouraging people from returning to work.”

Like many restaurants, The Blind Pig in Cedar Rapids is hiring, but finding workers has been no easy task.

“Previously, you put an ad out on Facebook or in the paper and you’d get 30, 40, 50 applicants. Now, you’re lucky if you get seven applicants at 2 in the morning on Facebook that don’t show up for your interview,” Ryan Evans, the owner of The Blind Pig, said.

Evans explained that he’s never had this problem before. We asked him if he believes the extra $300 in federal unemployment money people have been getting has kept them from working.

“Do I think it’s all that? No, but I can’t explain the other side of it,” Evans said.

To try to attract new workers, The Blind Pig is offering a $500 sign-on bonus after 90 days of employment. They’re also offering 30-40% higher wages than before according to Evans. So far, he told us it hasn’t brought in the number of applicants he was expecting and there have been issues with some of the people that were hired on.

“We’ve had 4 people start since the sign-on bonus and 3 of them just left. First shift, they just never came back. I can’t explain it,” Evans said.

Kelzye Bedwell, a financial stability director with the nonprofit Horizons, said that organization has not seen cases where unemployment benefits have stopped people from finding jobs.

“I have not ran into a client throughout the entire pandemic that has just been sitting at home because the unemployment money was just so nice they wanted to,” Bedwell said.

Instead, Bedwell said there are a variety of reasons someone may be unemployed, from lack of daycare to finding the right job for their skill set.

“Just because there are some jobs available doesn’t mean those are equal to someone’s skills or relevant to them,” Bedwell said.

Bedwell said she is concerned about how sudden the extra money her clients have budgeted for is going away and that it could impact them paying their bills.

Many organizations put out statements to either praise or voice their disapproval of Reynolds’ announcement today.

“Imagine the frustration of operators ready to welcome patrons back, only to find that the people we need by our sides to serve, prepare food and beverage, and help in our establishments are opting to sit the summer out because they are being paid to do so,” Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association said, in a statement.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry also applauded the Governor’s decision.

“Iowa had a workforce shortage prior to the pandemic. The continued extended benefits have only exacerbated the challenge and slowed our recovery,” Mike Ralston, the president of that organization, said, in a statement.

The National Federation of Independent Business in Iowa also thanked the Governor.

“Some of our smallest business owners here have had to shut down their business simply because they can’t find people to show up to work,” Matt Everson, the state director for the national group in Iowa, said.

Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA1) said, in part, “I’ve heard from businesses across Iowa who have ‘Help Wanted’ signs on their doors, but can’t find workers to fill open jobs. This is because the government is paying people to stay home instead of work—this is a huge issue and barrier to long-term economic growth.”

Meanwhile, Iowa House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard said the governor had “failed the leadership test.”

“Her decision to end additional assistance to Iowans who lost their job during the pandemic is unconscionable and heartless,” Prichard said.

Matt Sinovic, the executive director for Progress Iowa, also called the decision “heartless.”

“Most Iowans believe in helping neighbors in times of crisis,” Sinovic said, in a statement.

Charlie Wishman, the president of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO said in part, “It is shameful that our Governor can hurt people with such ease. Ending Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a terrible decision by this Governor and shows a misunderstanding of what’s actually going on in Iowa’s economy in the short and long term.”

We talked to an economist about if the extra unemployment benefits are discouraging people from getting jobs.

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