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Some unemployed workers are making more money on unemployment, others face discrepancy between wages and skills

Published: May. 25, 2021 at 8:50 PM CDT|Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 4:39 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowans on unemployment will lose federal pandemic-related benefits in less than three weeks. About two weeks ago, Governor Kim Reynolds announced the state will end its participation in federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs by June 12.

Governor Reynolds said the decision to opt-out of the federal benefits will add workers to the state’s severe workforce shortage. But, some workers are facing a discrepancy between the skills they have and the wages employers are offering. Others are simply making more money on unemployment.

Those making more money on unemployment include Patricia Blair. Blair hasn’t worked since the Derecho because the storm damaged her workplace where she was a Certified Nursing Assistant. But today she’s making more on unemployment than at her old job.

She exhausted her state unemployment benefits and only receives federal support plus an extra $300 every week through the federal pandemic relief programs. Blair said she’s okay with losing the extra $300, but said she still needs unemployment to make ends meet.

“The point is I don’t care about the $300, “she said. “It’s the point of making my mortgage.”

Blair said she doesn’t want to find a new job because she hopes her old job will hire her the derecho damage is repaired.

Governor Kim Reynolds said these federal pandemic 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.

Rep. Eric Gjerde (D-Cedar Rapids) said more people are helped through the federal benefits than the number of people taking advantage of the system.

“There might be certain situations like that, but I think we have to look at how is it affecting a majority of Iowans,” he said.

The discrepancy between wages and skills

Some workers are facing a discrepancy between the skills they have compared to the jobs available.

That’s the situation for Gene Hoffpauir, who worked at the long-term care facility in Marion. She said she made around $25 an hour, but hasn’t worked at her facility since the August Derecho. The derecho damaged the facility and it’s currently closed for repairs.

Hoffpauir said she’s making less on unemployment But, is scared taking another nursing job would pay her less than her salary before the pandemic.

“I’m going to have to take a pay cut,” Hoffpauir said. “Because every facility will start you at the bottom of your pay scale. That’s just how it is.”

But, she might have to take one of those jobs. Her federal pandemic benefits disappear next month. One of those benefits, the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, allowed her to continue getting unemployment after 26 weeks.

Charlie Wishman, who is currently the President of the Iowa Federation of Labor, said they’re seeing workers with more skills than the jobs that are available.

“There are a lot of people out there who have lost their job through the pandemic that have a much higher skill level than the jobs they are being asked to go back and do,” he said.

Health Issues

TV9 talked with another person on Monday who would also lose her benefits.

Melody Meritt had COVID-19 about eight months ago. But, she’s still 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.

Those Federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits also 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.

State Democrats criticized the decision to end the extra relief benefits and other efforts to provide economic relief from the pandemic. But Republicans, like Rep. Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford), said the problems are much broader than the amount of money thrown at a problem.

“I think everybody wants to focus this just around how many dollars did you just throw at that, and I would say it’s a much broader conversation,” he said.

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