Unemployment claims in Iowa grow again, as businesses in 77 counties prepare to reopen and workers face important choices

Unemployment documents from the Iowa Workforce Development office. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

The number of Iowans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits grew slightly during the most recent reporting period, according to new numbers released by Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) on Thursday morning. A total of 28,827 first-time claims were filed in the week ending April 25. That’s 925 more first-time claims than were filed during the previous week.

Since the impact of COVID-19 and the mitigation efforts to limit its spread began being felt in Iowa, 270,673 first-time claims for unemployment benefits have been filed in the state.

For the second week in row, the manufacturing sector produced the most new unemployment claims, according to IWD.

• Manufacturing (5,143)

• Health Care & Social Assistance (3,985)

• Industry Not Available – Self-employed, Independent Contractors, etc. (3,817)

• Retail Trade (3,307)

• Accommodation & Food Services (2,606

At her press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds cited the record-setting number of unemployment claims as one of the reasons she decided to allow selected business in 77 counties to partially reopen, despite warnings from epidemiologists that doing so risked triggering a second wave of COVID-19 cases in Iowa.

“We’re going to continue to reevaluate every single day, and continue to make informed decisions to protect the health of Iowans, but also the livelihood of Iowans as well,” Reynolds said.

But workers in the 77 counties where businesses can reopen starting on May 1 may face a choice between protecting their health and their livelihood. Workers who choose not to return to a business because they believe that workplace is unsafe during the pandemic will automatically lose their unemployment benefits.

According to IWD, there are only six acceptable reasons for a laid-off worker not return to work if asked to do so by their employer.

• If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms;

• If you have recovered but it caused medical complications rendering you unable to perform essential job duties;

• If a member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;

• If you are providing care for a member of your household who was diagnosed with COVID-19;

• If you do not have childcare due to COVID-19 reasons; or

• If you do not have transportation to your place of work because of COVID-19.

“Refusing to return to work when recalled for any other reason… will be considered a ‘voluntary quit’ which would disqualify a claimant from receiving benefits,” IWD said in a written statement on Monday.

Social media posts from State Sen. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids about whether workers will lose their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to the workplace have attracted a lot of attention.

You know how Gov. Reynolds is threatening Iowans with losing unemployment if they don't go back to work?Well, it turns…

Posted by Rob Hogg on Wednesday, April 29, 2020

But challenging a denial of benefits can be a long process.

In order to successfully challenge a denial of unemployment benefits, an appeal must be filed with the UI Appeals Bureau within 10 days of the denial. A hearing before an administrative law judge is then scheduled. During the hearing — usually conducted via teleconference, even before the pandemic — both the worker and the former employer testify and may present evidence. The administrative law judge’s decision will be mailed to both parties within 14 days.

If the judge upholds the denial, an applicant can appeal that decision to the Employment Appeal Board of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. The board doesn’t hold hearings, but reviews the case as it was presented to the administrative law judge. The board usually issues its decision 45 to 75 days after it receives the notice of an appeal.

If an appeal is rejected by the board, the worker can then file a lawsuit in state district court.

Workers won’t receive unemployment benefit payments while an appeal is ongoing, but if successful, will be awarded an amount equal to those unpaid benefits at the end of the process.

Although first-time unemployment claims in Iowa increased slightly in the most recent reporting period, nationwide first-time claims declined. More than 3.8 million Americans filed initial claims during the week ending April 25, down from approximately 4.4 million the previous week.

During the past six weeks, more than 30.3 million Americans have filed first-time unemployment claims.

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