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'Less than a month to figure it out': Iowans react to federal unemployment payment cuts

The $300 weekly payments were supposed to end in September, but Gov. Reynolds announced Tuesday that they will end next month on June 12.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowans felt mixed reactions following Gov. Kim Reynolds' decision to end federal unemployment benefits in the state Tuesday.

Some said it's about time Iowans get back to work while pointing to the numerous "help wanted" signs across the state, but others who rely heavily on the extra $300 to stay afloat during these difficult times said they believe Reynolds has blindsided them.

$300 keeping families afloat, Democrats question Reynolds

Mollie Carstens gave birth to her daughter Vera eight months ago. Giving birth in the middle of a pandemic topped with Vera's special needs has left Carstens feeling helpless and hopeless. 

"I'm not on unemployment because I want to, I'm on unemployment because I birthed a special needs child during the pandemic and no normal day care will take her so I may go back to the workforce," she posted on the Iowa Workforce Development's Facebook page.

In an interview with Local 5 Tuesday, Carstens said the $300 benefits have been vital for her family since she has to stay home and take care of her baby. 

Vera was born with a cleft lip and needs special care— she is syringe-fed and uses bottles with special nipples to eat. Not all day cares are ready to care for children like Vera. 

"That's going to set us back quite a bit. We use that money to pay for rent, food for our house our kids' necessities, things that we need," Carstens said. "[Vera's] dad works full time as a sheet metal worker, we can barely get by with what we have now so we really don't know what our next step is. We only got less than a month to figure it out." 

Maria Carlos is a COVID long-hauler, meaning she still experiences symptoms from the novel coronavirus seven months after she tested positive. These long-lasting symptoms make it difficult for her to work. 

"I'm having issues on my liver, they want me to have surgery on my lungs," said Carlos. "For me, what Kim Reynolds is doing is a real bad decision for a lot of people. Not only for me." 

The $300 has helped Carlos pay her rent. 

"It's not because I don't want to work. It's because... it's my body," Carlos said. "In my house, I need help all the time. I'm having trouble with my mind. I forget a lot of things, I forget about appointments. I don't want to be like this." 

"Our view is that choking off and declining money that, by the way, is taxpayer money, to help sustain people while they're looking for that right job is the wrong thing for those Iowans who are already struggling because of the economic fallout of this disease," said Iowa Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville. 

Contrary to what many Republicans believe, Democratic leaders like Wahls don't view the weekly benefits as the reason Iowans aren't getting back into the workforce. 

"Democrats have proposed more than two dozen pieces of legislation at the statehouse this year to ensure Iowans have better-paying jobs, affordable child care and job training," Wahls said. "We believe those are the key barriers facing Iowans in the labor market today. So, our view is it makes no sense for Gov. Reynolds to pull the rug out from unemployed Iowans while we remain in a worldwide pandemic." 

RELATED: Initial and continuing jobless claims in Iowa both down last week

What about getting Iowans back to work? Restaurants applaud Reynolds

As Local 5 has reported on several times this spring, restaurants are struggling to find workers as the pandemic eases up in Iowa. 

Those businesses applauded Reynolds' decision Tuesday, saying the federal benefits have exacerbated the challenge of finding workers. 

"It's just really hard to find employees right now," said Josh Holderness, who owns several restaurants in the metro, including Anna Dolce in West Des Moines. "I've never seen anything like this to where we actually have had to close our doors a couple of times just because we didn't have the staff to operate on a given night."

RELATED: EXPLAINER: Did US hiring slow because of a ‘labor shortage’?

RELATED: US job growth slows sharply in sign of hiring struggles

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