116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Policymakers are targeting economic safeholds for disadvantaged individuals like the unemployed, who still struggle to get back on their feet after a grueling pandemic which almost obliterated the economy.
This doesn’t come as a huge surprise in the Republican-led state of Iowa, with Kim Reynold’s announcement in May that Iowa would stop issuing additional federal unemployment benefits to those without a job. The $300 per week supplement under the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Biden and extended until September 6 has now stopped.
Participation in the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs stopped, too. The most notable issue with Iowa’s absence with these programs is that self-employed and gig workers (freelancers) will no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits. Others who are affected by this adherence to federal law are Iowans who didn’t earn enough in former jobs to qualify for standard unemployment, Iowans who don’t have access to child care, and Iowans with underlying medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19.
Despite it defying the spirit of federal law, Reynolds followed through with the stopping of federal unemployment benefits, citing a recovering economy and stronger labor market with severe workplace shortages.
“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. 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.”
However, it’s important to consider why those new job openings have been left unfilled. Perhaps it’s because of inadequate pay that didn’t even meet the unemployment benefits the federal government was supplying to the jobless. Now, some may claim that’s an issue in and of itself — and I agree, but not for the reason that the federal government paid individuals too much money in the pandemic assistance programs and unemployment benefits packages.
People should be able to demand a livable wage, one that trumps the base allowance the federal government has deemed reasonable to survive and meet the minimum cost of living to provide for basic human needs like eating and having shelter with electricity and clean running water. Minimum wage in the state of Iowa is $7.25. If a person works 40 hours a week, that comes out to $290 before taxes and federal and state withholding.
Put into perspective your monthly housing costs. Now add on your average utilities and grocery budget. Now imagine you’re paid $7.25 and not given enough hours to cover those bills so you start skipping meals and washing up in the sink to avoid making your water bill skyrocket despite being drenched in sweat from the rising summer temperatures (temperatures that your state doesn’t want to attribute to global warming either, so you just suffer as the heat swelters and you’re on the precipice of passing out). This is a dramatic scenario but not one I’m unfamiliar with, as I lived that existence only a couple of years ago before the pandemic hit.
$7.25 per hour is an unlivable wage and the state cutting benefits has secured the fate for over 30,000 Iowans who recently filed for unemployment.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org