DES MOINES, Iowa — A sweeping reform of Iowa’s unemployment program draws near, as the bill awaits Governor Reynolds’ signature to become law.

House File 2355 would lower the number of weeks Iowans can receive unemployment benefits from 26 to 16. Along with using a percentage system that would lower benefit pay week to week if the person on unemployment has received a job offer.

The incoming change has left job and career centers concerned about how this could impact a portion of people who use them as a resource. The state had an unemployment rate of 3.3% in March of 2022, and there are currently more than 85 thousand jobs available in Iowa. One center says they have noticed people looking for long-term options since COVID-19.

“To me the bill kind of looks short-sighted. It is about trying to fill job openings that are out there right now,” said Julie Fugenschuh, the Executive Director for Project Iowa. “And how we look at it is more long-term. We want people to stay in a career in which they can grow and prosper and have some longevity in.”

Fugenschuh said that around 60 percent of the people that take programs through Project Iowa are unemployed. One of the career programs that individuals can take through the organizations lasts 8 weeks, and the job search after could be two to three months, according to Fugenschuh.

People that apply to the new unemployment program would not need to wait a week before receiving a check, but if they have a job offer on the table their benefits will be lowered week by week.

In the 2nd and 3rd week of unemployment, if an individual has a job offer, they would only receive 90% of the benefit check. In the 4th and 5th weeks it would go down to 80%, then in the 6th-8th week it would go to 70%. The drop off stays at 60% of the original payment after 8 weeks. And for people that are looking for work, the new structure may require them to make faster decisions.

“By reducing the unemployment down by 10 additional weeks doesn’t mean that these people aren’t going to necessarily take the job,” said Rachelle Scott Oakley, the Site Coordinator at Evelyn K. Davis Center. “Of course, yes they have to take jobs sooner than they had to under the current law prior to the Governor signing, but that doesn’t mean it is going to solve the problem.”

Retention rate and job turnover were other concerns raised at both job centers. People may take smaller jobs to get by for a couple months until they find their career path.

Republican lawmakers have phrased this program reform as “reemployment” not “unemployment”. Governor Reynolds even used this phrasing in a statement following the bill’s passing on Tuesday.

“We’ve realigned our state’s workforce agency to serve as a reemployment agency providing more dedicated, one-on-one career coaching, and to make the process for Iowans to reenter the workforce as simple and efficient as possible,” said Reynolds.

Iowa Republicans view the changes necessary to solve workforce issues; and get people who are sitting on these benefits who are not actively looking for work the motivation to.

The Governor has not yet announced when the bill signing will happen, but the law will be implemented immediately after.