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Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley on Wednesday defended Gov. Kim Reynolds’ decision Tuesday to end federal pandemic unemployment benefits in the state, starting next month.
“I believe that Gov. Reynolds did the right thing,” Grassley told Iowa reporters on a weekly conference call. “And maybe some small business people would say she’s four or five states late.”
Reynolds on Tuesday joined Republican governors in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina, which have taken similar actions and ordered their state’s employment and workforce agencies to withdraw from the federal government’s pandemic unemployment programs.
Iowa will stop offering additional pandemic jobless aid starting June 13. Congress approved the additional pandemic jobless aid through September, which added $300 a week in aid beyond the usual state jobless benefits.
State unemployment benefits will remain in place.
Grassley, Reynolds and other Republicans, along with business groups, claim the federal largess is discouraging Iowans from returning to work, despite a strong labor market.
“Federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs initially provided displaced Iowans with crucial assistance when the pandemic began,” Reynolds said in a statement. “But now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work.”
Grassley on Wednesday echoed Reynolds, arguing the enhanced jobless benefits are holding back Iowa’s economic recovery as employers struggle to fill available jobs and bounce back from pandemic-related losses, cutbacks and closures.
“Wherever you went in Iowa, you found 'Help wanted’ signs,” Grassley said of his travels to 13 counties last week while Congress was in recess. “There’s a major problem out there. They can’t get workers. ... And I don’t want to in any way insinuate that people don’t want to work, but when they make more money not working than if they were working, and they want to enhance their economic viability, what would you expect them to do?”
A Gazette analysis of Iowa Workforce Development information showed someone without any dependents would need to earn under $9.33 an hour to earn less from working than in collecting unemployment insurance.
Democrats and labor groups have criticized Reynolds' decisions as an uncaring political stunt that will make it more difficult for Iowans to stay housed, clothed and fed and to care for their children as the pandemic stretches on.
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, said Tuesday that Reynolds’ decision removes a vital safety net for Iowans still out of work and looking for jobs.
Some Democrats have pointed to a 2020 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago that says those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits search less intensely for work, but are also willing to accept work that pays considerably less than their previous job.
Asked Wednesday what Reynolds’ decision will mean for those Iowans still struggling to find work, either because they aren’t qualified for the jobs available or cannot find suitable child care, Grassley argued plenty of jobs are available, “and people ought to take those jobs.”
“In other words, the government is an unfair competitor to the small businesses that need to hire people, or maybe even big businesses,” Grassley said. “We went to places that had 350 employees, and they would hire some more if they could.”
Grassley also brushed aside a question about U.S. House Republicans’ vote Wednesday ousting U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, from her No. 3 GOP leadership position in the chamber.
Cheney was ousted after having repeatedly rebuked former President Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election and his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
“That question isn’t anything that’s on Iowans’ minds,” Grassley said. “It’s an inside-the-Beltway worry, and not really anything to worry about.”