Legislation that would slash support for workers who need it most is moving forward with Republican support at the state capitol, all while a pandemic that drove people from the workplace, transitioned many into working from home and cost many others their jobs is still raging.
At the subcommittee meeting where the legislation was discussed, the major theme was that this bill is the wrong move to make and it’s the wrong time to make it.
“Why are we punishing people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own?”
Most commenters asked, “Why are we punishing people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own?”
SSB 1172 requires a one-week waiting period before someone can collect money, it lowers the amount paid to people with multiple dependents and it lowers the number of weeks a person can collect unemployment if an employer goes out of business.
Sen. Nate Boulton, a Democrat who represents District 16, said that not only will this bill hurt workers now, it’ll make a future unemployment event harder to handle.
“When we look at the impact of this legislation, the first thing I think we look at is it’s solving the wrong problem,” Boulton said.
If we’re using COVID as a model, then we should be shoring up family leave benefits, not unemployment, he said. Ultimately, Boulton said he couldn’t sign the statement.
The advocacy group Progress Iowa shared an online petition with hundreds in opposition to the legislation.
And additional public comments came from people from multiple labor unions and with various backgrounds, all sharing personal experiences of what this money means to people.
“Have any of you ever been unemployed due to a plant closing? Well I have, and let me tell you, it’s not fun,” said Kelly Harrison, a member of UAW 893. “Jobs aren’t readily available that make the same amount of money.”
Harrison’s plant closed suddenly, and she said she and other workers didn’t have any advance notice. And many didn’t know what to do, or how to find a job that wouldn’t mean a decrease in income.
Years ago, Drake Custer, now a business agent for Teamsters local 238, received unemployment benefits for ten months.
“The reality is, in that kind of prolonged unemployment families are forced to make a choice in the name of survival vs the name of prosperity or fulfillment or enjoyment,” he said. “It is purely about survival.”
Custer said that reducing the amount of time that people can receive benefits is only going to encourage people to leave the community or state.
Felicia Hilton, a lobbyist for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said this bill doesn’t honor or benefit any of the people who have worked through the pandemic.
“Workers have been afraid this whole year of the virus physically and financially. This just adds to the current fear,” she said. “We feel like as things ebb and flow with the pandemic this an earned benefit, it’s an earned safety net. This is not some giveaway to working people in Iowa.”
The bill passed the subcommittee, though Sens. Jason Schultz (Republican, District 9) and Adrian Dickey (Republican, District 41) did acknowledge that there’s a lot of information to look through and they look forward to more debate.