CORONAVIRUS

Iowa jobless claims continue to surge

CARES Act aid to be retroactive when is starts

Line chart for Iowa unemployment claims up to week ending April 4, 2020
Line chart for Iowa unemployment claims up to week ending April 4, 2020

With another record surge announced Thursday of unemployment claims, more than 181,000 people now are seeking jobless benefits from the state after COVID-19 cost them work over the past three weeks.

According to Iowa Workforce Development, 67,334 initial claims between March 29 and April 4 were made in the state, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor. The state paid nearly $27.57 million in unemployment insurance benefits for the week.

Those applying for benefits over the phone face long on-hold times and a perplexing system of routing applicants that some have given up on.

While the state also is processing claims for additional benefits as part of the federal CARES Act, those federal payments have not started.

The state anticipates those CARES benefits will be paid next week, including the additional $600 weekly benefit amount as well as unemployment claims for the self-employed, independent contractors, freelancers, gig economy workers and not-for-profit employees.

The $600 weekly benefits will be retroactive for claims effective March 29. Claims for the self-employed can be retroactive to Feb. 2 if there was a reduction in income or loss of employment related to the pandemic.

In an email Friday, Beth Townsend, director of Iowa Workforce Development, said her agency has received $350 million as an initial deposit to pay those CARES Act benefits, plus just over $10 million to cover administrative costs to implement the federal legislation and assist with UI claims processing.

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Most state unemployment claims should be paid to Iowans in seven to 10 days from when filed, said Townsend, speaking Thursday at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ news conference.

Though Iowa so far has not charged employers whose workers have filed claims as a result of COVID-19, Townsend said officials will start doing so when the state’s unemployment compensation trust fund reaches a “trigger” of $950 million — with $1.13 billion currently in the fund.

This “trigger” will help ensure employers’ baseline tax rates are not affected, Townsend said.

The number of continuing week-to-week unemployment claims in Iowa is 92,962.

Iowa’s new claims break down into 64,187 by individuals who work and live in Iowa, and 3,147 by individuals who work in Iowa and live out of state.

In the two previous weeks, the state received 55,963 and 58,453 claims, respectively. By comparison, there were only 2,221 weekly unemployment claims about a month ago.

Sectors that this time showed the most claims were: health care and social assistance, 9,632; manufacturing, 9,218; retail trade, 8,088; accommodation and food service, 7,123; and construction 2,696.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.

The maximum amount of state unemployment benefits a laid-off Iowan who qualifies can receive will vary based on how many dependents a claimant has, according to officials. For a claimant with four dependents, the maximum is $591 per week; for a claimant with no dependents, the maximum weekly benefit amount is $481.

CARES Act benefits are in addition to that.

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Workforce Development posted a notice on its website that callers should expect to hear several minutes of ringing and then silence — but should not hang up.

“The ringing and silence are a part of our phone system and we are unable to change these features at this time,” the notice said. “Please stay on the line and we will answer your call as quickly as possible. Your call will be answered quicker if you simply remain on the phone versus hanging up and trying again.”

The agency encouraged people who have lost work to apply online at iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov.

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