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Reynolds says unemployed Iowans will soon have more work search requirements

102021-reynolds-press-conference
Katarina Sostaric
/
IPR
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced new rules for people receiving unemployment benefits Wednesday at Iowa Spring in Adel.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa’s top workforce development official said Wednesday they will raise work search requirements for Iowans receiving unemployment benefits.

They said it's part of an effort to address the state’s workforce shortage.

“While Iowa Workforce Development will continue to administer the unemployment insurance program for those who need it, the agency’s primary focus will be on rapid reemployment,” Reynolds, a Republican, said at a news conference held at Iowa Spring in Adel.

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said starting early next year, the agency will reach out to Iowans in their first week of receiving unemployment benefits.

She said the workforce advisors will meet weekly with each person receiving benefits and will use new technology to compare individual work history with labor market information to match people with job openings. Currently, Iowans don’t have to work with IWD’s reemployment services until their fifth week of receiving benefits.

Townsend said the state plans to hire 18 additional workforce advisors to help with this work.

She said unemployment benefits were never meant to provide long-term support.

“Our economic recovery is contingent on getting as many Iowans as possible back into the workforce as quickly as possible,” Townsend said. “And we believe this new proactive approach of early, consistent and targeted engagement focused on reemployment will help us achieve that goal.”

As part of this program, IWD plans to require Iowans receiving unemployment benefits to contact four potential employers each week instead of two. IWD will also reduce the number of activities that qualify as a work search from 27 to 12.

An IWD spokesperson said the agency has the authority to make these changes without lawmakers’ approval. Reynolds said she would be proposing more unemployment and workforce policy changes in the next legislative session, but she did not provide details.

IWD expects to have the new software called Reemployment Exchange (REX) implemented in November, and the agency plans to release more details about the changing definition of work search activities in the future.

Democrats criticized the new policies.

“For years, Reynolds has failed to take the necessary action to address the root causes of our workforce shortage,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights. “We need bold action to remove barriers for Iowans to join and stay in the workforce. We need to expand access to affordable child care, make health care more affordable, and ensure retirement security and fair wages to support a family.”

Reynolds also announced she is directing $30 million of federal American Rescue Plan funds to grants for small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses. She said the money will help businesses retain and recruit employees and invest in technology.

Konfrst noted national Democrats made that funding available.

“It’s no surprise that Gov. Reynolds is once again taking credit for the resources she fought against earlier this year,” Konfrst said.

Reynolds also mentioned her plan to put ARP funding toward affordable housing and the upcoming release of recommendations to improve child care access as other strategies for addressing the workforce shortage.

This story was updated Friday, Oct. 22 at 8:10 a.m. to reflect additional information provided by IWD about the new program.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter