116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
James Kennedy of Mount Vernon had a plan to get back to doing what he loves.
Kennedy, who with his wife ran a music teaching studio for 35-plus years and performs at concerts and festivals, was going to reopen their business in August.
But the money Kennedy was planning on using to jump-start his business soon will stop arriving.
“We have no funding to get to that point at all,” Kennedy told The Gazette.
Kennedy is among the thousands of Iowans who have been relying on federal pandemic unemployment as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s unclear exactly how many people are set to lose federal unemployment benefits when Iowa stops its participation in the federal programs. The cutoff is effective June 12, meaning the last checks will come this week.
An Iowa Workforce Development official did not answer a question from The Gazette about how many Iowans filed for federal unemployment benefits in the most recent week of claims. On May 13, the IWD said 43,985 applied for the soon-to-be-cut benefits.
Gov. Kim Reynolds and a number of other Republican leaders across the nation have the made the case that cutting off benefits will accelerate businesses’ ability to rebound from the pandemic.
“Why would we allow the federal government to hamper our economic recovery by paying potential workers to stay home?” Reynolds said Wednesday at Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s annual conference in Coralville.
But for some of the potential workers staying home, returning to work isn’t so simple.
Kennedy, of Mount Vernon, sees it as a safety issue as Iowa continues to recover from COVID-19.
“It’s a difficult call because the pandemic is not over in Iowa,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think the work environment is safe yet.”
As of Friday, 43.2 percent of the state was fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data and analyzed by The Gazette. About 49.2 percent of Linn County residents, for example, has received a full series of vaccinations.
His wife has done some piano lessons over Zoom, but it hasn’t been enough for the couple to make a living.
“We’ll use whatever income we can get off of that,” Kennedy said.
As a self-employed worker, he is not eligible for standard unemployment benefits.
For Jenny Kennedy — no relation to James — of Clinton, it’s a matter of finding care for her 24-year-old daughter who has Down syndrome and can’t be left alone.
Since the start of the pandemic, she hasn’t been able to get her daughter into a day habilitation center close enough that would give her enough time to put in a work day.
“I don’t have anywhere for her to go,” said Jenny Kennedy, who had been self-employed selling items on eBay. “There are a lot of people with kids with special needs, and we just get overlooked.”
If she had the option to return to the workforce, she’d take it.
“I like working,” she said. “It’s frustrating for me that I can’t do what I want to do.”
Others, such as Danielle Thompson, were narrowly close to also going without income for the foreseeable future after June 12.
Thompson had been out of work for several months and exhausted her state unemployment benefits despite “constantly putting in applications.”
“Sometimes I don’t get a call back,” Thompson said earlier this past week. “Sometimes I go through the entire interview process and then I get told I’m not hired because they found someone more qualified.”
Thompson thought she was going to have to celebrate daughter’s birthday with minimal expenses.
“Are we doing anything for my birthday?” the daughter asked Thompson.
“I had to tell her, ‘I’m sorry, aside from baking a cake, I don’t know,’” Thompson said.
But Thompson finally received a job offer and will begin work June 28, part time as an associate banker, so her daughter will be getting more than just a cake. They’ll be going to the Adventureland amusement park in Altoona.
For others, though, a different reality begins after their final federal unemployment benefit check arrives this week.
“We will basically be in poverty,” James Kennedy said. “We’re trying to figure out what to do.”
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