‘I would be thrilled to death to work’ - Iowans with symptoms after COVID-19 set to lose pandemic benefits

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 11:35 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Melody Meritt had COVID-19 about eight months ago. But, she’s still dealing with the symptoms.

“I just get so winded,” she said. “Even now, I have to slow down because I get so fatigued and out of breath.”

Meritt said she’s dealing with several different health conditions since having COVID-19. Those health conditions, which are also keeping her out of the workforce, include restrictive lung disease and pulmonary air trapping. She said she never had these conditions before getting COVID-19.

Federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits allow people, like Meritt, to collect unemployment. Normally, people can’t get unemployment benefits if they are dealing with symptoms of COVID-19. These federal benefits allow people sick with COVID-19 to get unemployment along with an added $300.

Meritt’s used her unemployment benefits to pay her bills. But, Governor Kim Reynolds’ decision on Tuesday to end the state’s participation in federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits leaves her unsure how she’ll make ends meet.

“I’ll have to cut a lot of expenses, and I’m not really sure what expenses I’m going to cut,” she said. “Because we got to have water and we got to have electricity. But I don’t know. It just really scares me”

Gov. Kim Reynolds said on Tuesday the decision to opt-out of the federal benefits will add workers to the state’s severe workforce shortage.

The governor said these benefits are also discouraging people from returning to work.

“But now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work,” Reynolds said. “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.”

Employers have also cited the extra $300 in unemployment as a reason many people aren’t looking for jobs.

“The overwhelming message we receive from employers these days is the lack of workforce that is adversely affecting their ability to recover from the pandemic,” said Director Beth Townsend, Iowa Workforce Development.

However, one expert disagreed with that notion.

Ryan Anderson, a business professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, said it’s unlikely an extra $300 per week is keeping people from wanting to work.

He said it may be just one of the factors. Anderson said other factors may include wages and health concerns, especially among those working in the service industry.

Drake University Economics professor Sean Severe said many people had to drop out of the workforce for childcare issues.

“Why should I pay $1,000 for daycare per month, if I’m only bringing in $500 of income?” Severe said.

TV9 reached out to the Governor’s Office on why it’s eliminating all the federal benefits and not just the supplemental $300 a week. We didn’t immediately hear back.

These benefits don’t expire until June 12. Until then, people like Meritt will have to figure out how to bridge that gap.

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