Upside Down week for Iowa Republicans in Congress

In the natural order of things, members of Congress brag about the federal assistance they fought to obtain for their constituents.

The Republicans who represent Iowa in the U.S. House and Senate turned that formula on its head this week. Every one cheered the news that tens of thousands of Iowans will soon lose the federal government support they depend on.

Congratulations from GOP politicians and business groups poured in after Governor Kim Reynolds announced on May 11 that Iowa will stop participating in three federal pandemic-related unemployment programs, effective June 13.

According to an Iowa Workforce Development memorandum, for the week ending May 1:

  • 14,570 Iowans received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance totaling $4.9 million
  • 18,703 Iowans received Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation totaling $8.2 million
  • 49,912 Iowans received Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (providing $300 weekly payments on top of regular benefits) totaling $19.7 million

Unemployment claims numbers fluctuate, and the U.S. Department of Labor figures don’t always match those released by Iowa Workforce Development. But it appears that more than $30 million in federal funds that recipients would spend almost immediately will be disappearing from Iowans’ pocketbooks in a few weeks.

Some 33,000 Iowans currently on either Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation will lose all the jobless benefits they now receive. Tens of thousands more will continue to receive state unemployment benefits, but without the additional $300 a week they have been getting from the federal government.

Not one Iowa Republican expressed any concern about the impact on household budgets or the economy as a whole.

ERNST “REALLY EXCITED” ABOUT GOVERNOR’S DECISION

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst was never a fan of generous unemployment benefits for those displaced by the pandemic. When Congress debated the CARES Act in March 2020, she and Senator Chuck Grassley voted against the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provided an extra $600 per week for four months, and later provided an extra $300 per week.

Ernst “applauded” the governor’s action in a news release and comments her office released on video.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused hardship for millions of families across the United States and in Iowa. Because of Operation Warp Speed, we now have vaccines; and COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are trending down. Despite efforts by the Democrats to dis-incentivize work, it is time for us to get America running again. Governor Reynolds has taken a helpful step toward growing our workforce by curbing the additional federal unemployment benefits, and now we need to do more nationwide.

The news release and accompanying video highlighted that Ernst wants to take those benefits away from all unemployed Americans, not just those whose Republican governors are turning down the funding. She bragged on her official Twitter feed that she had voted to repeal the extra benefits nationwide.

Partial transcript:

We are hearing from people in Iowa and across the United States that the reason they are not going back to work is because they are paid more to stay home. That’s the truth. So I was really excited to see Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa make that decision today to turn back additional federal dollars for expanded unemployment insurance benefits. Iowa is ready to open the doors. This means we will have more folks going back to work without those expanded benefits.

According to Ernst’s news release, “the Get Americans Back to Work Act decreases unemployment benefits to $150 per week at the end of May, and then fully repeals them out at the end of June.” Under current law, the $300 weekly payments continue through September 4.

Grassley’s office didn’t send out a news release, but the senator praised Reynolds to his more than 642,000 Twitter followers.

If the jobs on offer were “good paying,” employers would probably have much less trouble filling the positions. In addition, Grassley failed to acknowledge that many Iowans are not working because they lack child care or are not physically able to do the work available in their communities.

HOUSE MEMBERS ASSERT CUTTING BENEFITS WILL GROW THE ECONOMY

Many economists dispute the idea that cutting people’s unemployment benefits will boost job growth or the economy as a whole. But Iowa Republicans in Congress echoed the governor’s spin as an undisputed fact.

Like Ernst, Representative Ashley Hinson (IA-01) sent a statement to her press list “applauding Governor Reynolds for ending Iowa’s participation in federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs.”

I’ve heard from businesses across Iowa who have “Help Wanted” signs on their doors, but can’t find workers to fill open jobs. This is because the government is paying people to stay home instead of work—this is a huge issue and barrier to long term economic growth. Economic polices that discourage people from working will pull down our economy. I applaud Governor Reynolds for continuing to implement common sense policies that will put our economy back on track and help get our lives back to normal.

Representatives Randy Feenstra (IA-04) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) followed Grassley’s lead, expressing their support for Reynolds on social media but not issuing a separate news release about the benefit cuts. Feenstra tweeted, “Once again, Iowa is leading the way. I applaud @IAGovernor‘s decision to end participation in enhanced UI. Iowa’s unemployment rate isn’t too far above pre-pandemic levels. We are open for business, and it’s time to get folks back to work & keep our economy growing.”

Similarly, Miller-Meeks tweeted, “I fully support @IAGovernor‘s decision. Iowa has been leading the way for months by getting our kids back in school, reopening our businesses, and putting our economy back on track.”

It’s odd to see elected officials so excited about money coming out of their constituents’ pockets. What would they say if farmers stood to lose lots of federal cash?

In the coming months, we will see which states do better with job creation and economic growth: those continuing to participate in pandemic-related unemployment programs, or those led by Republicans eager to take money away from jobless citizens.

P.S.– Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) tweeted on May 11, “I share the Governor’s goal of getting Iowans back to work and our businesses back to full strength, but cutting the safety net out from underneath Iowans who are still out of work and looking for a job is no way to do it.” The lone Democrat in Iowa’s Congressional delegation added, “There are thousands of Iowans who are still out of work, and slashing their benefits only sends the message that Iowa isn’t on the side of its workers and their families” Axne also noted, “Iowans who are still struggling to make ends meet and find affordable child care are no better equipped to return to work by losing this support.”

UPDATE: In an interview with KWWL-TV on May 14, Hinson said, “Americans do need to get back to work. I applaud our governor for her decision this week to help support our workforce in Iowa and get people back to work.”

Taking hundreds of dollars a week away from people struggling to get by is a creative way to “support our workforce in Iowa.” Somehow I doubt Hinson would be so excited about other constituencies losing a large share of their incomes.

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