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Iowa scrambles to provide aid to those fired for refusing vaccines

In May, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds rushed to get people off of jobless aid. For those fired over missed vaccinations, she's changed her mind.

In the spring, many of the nation's Republican governors embraced a provocative economic idea. With congressional Democrats having approved enhanced unemployment benefits, these GOP officials decided the smart move would be cut off the extra assistance to the jobless, in the hopes that it would force people back to work faster.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds joined the partisan push in early May, arguing that there were too many Iowans receiving too much aid for too long.

"Now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work," the Republican governor said nearly five months ago. "Our unemployment rate is at 3.7 percent, vaccines are available to anyone who wants one, and we have more jobs available than unemployed people."

As the Associated Press reported over the weekend, Reynolds' perspective on rushing people off of unemployment assistance appears to have changed a bit — for a very specific reason.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday signed into law a bill that allows Iowa workers to seek medical and religious exemptions from Covid-19 vaccine mandates and guarantees that those who are fired for refusing a vaccine will qualify for unemployment benefits. Reynolds signed the bill a day after the Iowa Legislature passed it in a one-day special session convened to pass the state's redistricting maps. The law becomes effective immediately.

The GOP governor, who has consistently opposed requirements for masks and vaccines, despite her state's difficulties during the pandemic, said in a statement that "no Iowan should be forced to lose their job or livelihood over the Covid-19 vaccine."

Reynolds is also moving forward with plans to sue the Biden administration over its efforts to end the pandemic through vaccine requirements.

The disconnect between the policies is jarring. In May, unemployment insurance was derided by Republicans for creating unhealthy disincentives: People would make irresponsible decisions, they said, affecting themselves and the larger economy, as a result of unneeded financial rewards from the government. The goal, they argued, should be to get as many people off jobless aid as quickly as possible.

And yet, in October, as some Americans lose their jobs after choosing to go unvaccinated during the pandemic, Iowa's Reynolds seems to have arrived at an entirely different set of assumptions.