Iowa agency seeing ‘staggering’ number of unemployment claims as COVID-19 prevention shuts down businesses

Iowa Workforce Development is receiving as many unemployment claims daily as the agency usually receives in a month, as workers across the state find themselves out of a job as the state ramps up efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Gov.+Kim+Reynolds+gives+the+Condition+of+the+State+address+at+the+Iowa+State+Capitol+on+Tuesday%2C+January+14%2C+2020.+

Katina Zentz

Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the Condition of the State address at the Iowa State Capitol on Tuesday, January 14, 2020.

Caleb McCullough, Assistant Politics Editor

As restaurants and bars across the state have closed to contain the spread of COVID-19, Iowa Workforce Development is being inundated with unemployment claims, the agency’s executive director Beth Townsend said in a press conference with Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday.

“It’s pretty staggering to see the number of claims that we’re receiving,” Townsend said. “Essentially, what we’re receiving on a daily basis is what we would receive in a busy month.”

Townsend said Iowa Workforce Development would coordinate with the governor to release unemployment numbers sometime next week, and she said she didn’t want to give an estimate as claims are still coming in.

Townsend and Reynolds said they have not received pressure from the federal officials to hold back on releasing exact numbers. The New York Times reported Thursday that the U.S. Labor Department had instructed state officials to only release general descriptions of unemployment rates until the department releases official numbers next Thursday.

A Thursday U.S. Labor Department news release said the department received 281,000 new claims last week, which it attributed to the impacts of COVID-19. That number is up from 211,000 the previous week and is the highest in a single week since September 2017.

Iowa’s unemployment rate has seen record lows in the last few years, and the most recent data from Iowa Workforce Development put the number at 2.9 percent in December 2019.

Reynolds said she plans to create an economic recovery task force to work on cushioning economic distress caused by state and federal measures taken to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus.

She said she’s open to using the $20 million she has access to from the state’s Economic Emergency Fund to prop up restaurants, individuals, and other stakeholders affected by the pandemic.

“We’re continuing to review things that we need to do to help our small business and Iowans, again building on what they’re doing at the federal level as well,” Reynolds said.

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