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“Between a rock and a hard place”: Iowa ends Federal Pandemic Unemployment benefits

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL)- The enhanced federal unemployment benefits put in place at the start of the pandemic officially expired in Iowa on Sunday.

Last month Governor Reynolds announced she was cutting off the extra payments, saying they discouraged Iowans from returning to work.

For Lynnette Beam, a single mother of two special needs children, the decision to end the pandemic unemployment benefits is cutting a critical lifeline short.

"I would love to work if I could, but both my children need 24-hour care," Beam said. "I have a 12-year-old with behavioral and emotional disabilities, and my 17-year old son is completely disabled."

Beam and her 12 year old daughter

She had to quit her job to take care of the kids in February. She applied for both state and federal unemployment benefits but was rejected. She is still waiting to appeal the decision. River Hills last day will be on June 28th with an option for River Hills extended summer school program.

"It is hard even to consider taking a job during the day, when I have no childcare or at night even because I have no one to sit with them, you know, as a single parent," Beam said. "There's not a daycare that will take them."

Beam has applied to some jobs and has looked into working from home. Although, given the level of care her 17-year old needs, it would be a challenge.

"I have to be on my toes every minute, watching him," she said. "So the work from home option has been tough to explore."

Beam's 17 year old son

Beam has deferred her mortgage and drained her savings account to get by. She has hoped to get the enhanced benefits to getting through the summer, but now that they are over, she is searching for new ways to keep herself afloat.

"I'm kind of between a rock and a hard place wondering what I am going to do for the next two months," she said.

She is faced with the possibility of having to send her 17-year-old to a group home, something she desperately does not want to do.

"I either go on for a government aid or consider putting him in a home, and I don't think that is a fair toss-up," she said. "He is not ready for that, I am not ready for that, and our family's not ready for that. He is still a minor."

Beam said she agrees some likely took advantage of overgenerous benefits but wishes it could be considered individually.

"I'm not sitting here wanting to take advantage of the government and be lazy," she said. "I'd love to go back to work if I could, but until school starts, I am kind of between a rock and a hard place."

Nationally, the average full-time worker received $650 per week in combined state and enhanced federal unemployment benefits, the equivalent of making $16 an hour.

Reynolds said she believes the generous benefits have kept people from looking for work, leading to labor shortages across the state.

"We've never seen staffing shortages like this," Jessica Dunker, President of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said. "It is tough right now for us to find people and hire people and keep people."

She said half of the state's restaurants are operating with 80% or fewer staff members.

The Brass Tap in Cedar Falls is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and operates on reduced hours on weekends. Co-owner James Burtis said he needs to hire about 30% more staff to resume normal hours.

"In a given week, you get 10 to 30 job applicants. If you can get half a dozen to show up for an interview, you are ahead of the curve," Burtis said. "Most just never call you back."

He said he has had about 60 to 70 employees schedule interviews and then not show up. A handful of others have accepted a job offer but never showed up for their first day of work.

"We are doing better than a lot of places at finding people, and it is still a struggle," he said. "If anything, we are just as busy or busier than we ever were. We don't have the people to provide that service properly."

Raising wages, converting full-time to part-time positions, and offering incentives to new hires are some of the ways businesses are trying to get help.

"The enhanced unemployment kept some people away, but we are just not seeing that as being the primary driver right now of what's keeping people out of work," Dunker said.

Even if everyone unemployed took a job today, there would still be a staffing shortage. As of April 2021, 61,600 Iowans were unemployed, and there were 66,000 open jobs on the Iowa Works website.

Iowa will continue to provide regular state unemployment insurance benefits to those who are eligible under state code.

As of Sunday, Iowa will no longer waive employer charges for COVID-related unemployment insurance claims.

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Daniel Perreault


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