Iowa has a message for those reluctant to work at re-opened businesses

Many Iowans who may not be altogether comfortable with the governor's decision aren't being given much of a choice.
Image: Kim Reynolds, Adam Gregg
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference as acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, from left, looks on during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 8, 2018.Charlie Neibergall / AP file
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By Steve Benen

As coronavirus outbreaks continue to emerge far outside coastal urban areas, there's cause for concern in Iowa. As Rachel explained on the show last night, there have been dramatic reports out of Waterloo, Cedar Falls, and Sioux City in recent weeks, in a state where Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) never issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

What's more, it's difficult to be optimistic about the near future. The Des Moines Register reported yesterday that researchers at University of Iowa warned Reynolds' administration to maintain existing mitigation efforts or "a second wave of infections is likely."

The article added, "The warning was included in a 12-page report sent last week to the Iowa Department of Public Health from a team of researchers at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The report said researchers found signs of a slowdown in COVID-19 infection and mortality rates in Iowa, 'but not that a peak has been reached.'"

Despite the warnings, and the fact that some of the nation's fastest-growing outbreaks are unfolding in her state, Iowa's GOP governor is moving forward with plans to re-open parts of the state as early as Friday.

But let's say you're one of the Iowans who's currently at home because of the public-health crisis, and you're not too keen on the idea of rushing back to the workplace in a state where the threat is quite real. Let's also say your employer has been directed by the state to re-open its doors.

As the Des Moines Register also reported, Kim Reynolds' administration apparently has a message for you, too.

Iowa is warning furloughed workers that they will lose their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return when their employer calls them back to work.... Iowa Workforce Development said Monday that failing to return to work out of fear of catching the virus will be considered a voluntary quit, which disqualifies workers from receiving unemployment benefits.

In fact, as the governor takes steps to re-open 77 of the state's 99 counties this week, Iowa's Workforce Development department is urging employers to report workers who don't return to their jobs.

In other words, many Iowans who may not be altogether comfortable with the governor's decision aren't being given much of a choice: go back to work during a pandemic or lose the financial benefits keeping many families afloat.

Reynolds, for what it's worth, won a competitive statewide race in 2018 by less than three percentage points. She won't be up for re-election until 2022.