Iowa Workforce Development sees surge of unemployment claims

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Iowa Workforce Development is seeing some heavy traffic as employees across the state are not able to work because of COVID-19's impact it's just not foot traffic. Bob Becker with Iowa Workforce Development's Spencer office said all locations statewide have been closed to the public and converted to call centers. Those in need of filing for an unemployment claim or submitting a weekly claim can do so online at www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov or over the phone at 866-239-0843.

"If they've been affected by COVID-19 in any shape, form or size 'I can't take my kids to school, therefore now I have to sit at home with them' or 'My day care's been closed down' they can file a COVID claim," Becker said.

Applicants will need to provide several pieces of information when filing the claim full legal name, complete mailing address, telephone number, Social Security numbers for themselves and up to four dependents, the name of their most recent employer as it appears on a pay stub or W-2 form, starting and ending dates for their most recent employment and a reason for leaving their most recent job. After completing the initial claim, all applicants must file weekly claims in order to maintain unemployment eligibility, even if the state is still determining whether an applicant is eligible at all. If successful, payments will be deposited by the state on an Iowa Workforce Development debit card or into the applicant's savings or checking account. Payments are typically issued three weeks after an application, but Becker said procedures have been adjusted to respond to the COVID-19 outbreaks and may be closer to 10 days. He went on to say there is no particular procedure for an applicant to end their unemployment assistance.

"Generally what happens is, if they stop reporting, we stop paying and then we assume they're back to work," Becker said.

Iowa Workforce Development listed Dickinson County's unemployment rate at 4.9% as of January 2020 the state showed an average of 3.6%. Becker was unsure when the next state report would be available, but he said his office has been bustling as of late as they assist a wide variety of workers.

"There's a lot of restaurant workers a lot of medical, dental that type of thing just lots and lots of folks that have been impacted," Becker said. "All you have to do is look and see what (businesses) you can't get into. It's pretty much everything."

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced on March 16 the state would provide assistance for workers and employees impacted by layoffs related to COVID-19. The governor declared a public health disaster for the state, which resulted in the closure of many businesses like bars, restaurants, fitness centers, theaters and casinos all in an effort to keep the coronavirus from potentially spreading among large groups. The governor's actions did allow restaurants to continue filling carry-out and delivery orders, and she later granted a request from the Iowa Restaurant Association to allow bars and restaurants to sell unopened bottles of alcohol for delivery or carry-out.

Becker said potential legislation related to unemployment is almost constantly on the horizon at this point, and the situation is evolving every minute.

"They're making the plane on the runway as we speak," he said.

Federal legislators recently butted heads over the third phase of a COVID-19 economic relief package, which contained funding for business loans and was expected to pass the Senate Wednesday. A previous bill passed by Congress on March 18 approved around $500 million in grant funding for states in order to better prepare for a surge in unemployment claims, and another $500 million was approved to further fund states which see a 10% increase in claims. The anticipated third phase of the Congressional relief package would issue checks of up to $1,200 for each taxpayer based on their 2018 tax returns and add $500 for each dependent child. Congress also approved a dollar-per-dollar tax credit as part of the federal relief's second bill, which reimburses local businesses for paid leave used because of the virus.

Becker said employees are generally expected to use their paid leave and vacation days before receiving unemployment benefits, but he said a majority of applicants don't have that luxury. Iowa Workforce Development is waiving a number of fees and charges to businesses whose employees file for unemployment because of the virus. The state organization also assured employers the recent wave of COVID-19 related claims would not increase their unemployment taxes, but Becker said it's possible unemployment rates could increase in the future.

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