DES MOINES, Iowa -- Two months ago, Iowa touted the 10th lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.8 percent. Now, the pendulum is swinging the opposite direction.
"We are seeing an unprecedented number of claims. What we're seeing on a daily basis is what we'd see in a busy month," said Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend on Friday.
Unprecedented times are leading to unprecedented problems for Iowans filing for unemployment on the phone such as Rachael Christensen, who was working at dental office and now without work until at least April 13. "It won’t even let you be put on hold. It will just tell you call back, we have too high of a call volume," said Christensen.
Iowans are also being told by the Iowa Workforce Development to use up their PTO before making their claim. Christensen said, "That just really upset me. I work hard for my PTO, as everybody else does. In my situation, I was supposed to get married April 4 and go on a honeymoon, and now it has all been halted."
Trish Kolbe of Lisbon is also in the dark. She said, "Yesterday, I finally got through and they told me the system was down and they couldn’t do it over the phone because even they couldn’t get into the system."
Kolbe's fiance, Larry Hefley, was told he had to go home because his future son-in-law was in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Now, Hefley needs unemployment to pay the bills, but for two days there’s been no progress. "It is frustrating because at 2:30 p.m. everyday Governor Reynolds is telling us we are getting unemployment and we are going to be fine. Well, no, you are not because you can’t even get on," said Kolbe.
On Tuesday, Governor Kim Reynolds addressed the issues briefly, saying, "There's just been a large number and we all knew and expected that, so I will check on that.”
Troubleshooting to Kolbe just sounds like trouble for her family in getting any unemployment in a timely fashion. "It’s going to be 10 to 14 days. Now it’s 12 to 16 days because we’ve been working on it for two days and it makes it a longer drawn out process," Kolbe said.
For many workers, this temporary halt in business isn’t a choice, and they feel unheard. Christensen said, "In a time like this where our hands are tied, we literally cannot go to work and they are making us use our PTO. This is no vacation. I’m trapped in my house for three weeks.”
While work is on pause, the bills are not, and Iowans say delays in the system will be devastating. Kolbe said, "Take the ease off our minds by knowing we are going to have income to pay our bills. That we will be able to get toilet paper, we will be able to get food, we will be able to keep our vehicles and we will be able to keep our home."
Governor Reynolds says work is being done around the clock to fix issues. To file a claim, it's recommended to complete the application online. For those who do not have access to the internet, call 866-239-0843 .