Iowa Unemployment Benefits, Amount, Services & Filing

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Iowa offers unemployment insurance benefits to employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. The state's unemployment insurance program is managed by the Iowa Unemployment Insurance Division, part of the Iowa Workforce Development (IWD). This agency accepts unemployment insurance (UI) claims when they are filed and evaluates individual claimant eligibility. Unemployed workers in Iowa may also qualify for federal pandemic unemployment benefits.

Iowa State UI Benefits

In the state of Iowa, like in most states, only workers who are out of a job through no fault of their own are eligible for UI benefits. In order to obtain benefits, claimants must also meet other qualifications. These include having earned a specified amount of gross wages during the period designated as the claimant's base period.

Iowans who are eligible for unemployment benefits get these benefits on a weekly basis. A qualified worker will get a weekly benefit payment equal to some portion of the wages the worker earned in the highest earning calendar quarter of their base year. The amount of those wages in weekly benefits depends on whether the worker has dependents and, if so, how many.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

Although states are usually in charge of managing UI benefits within their borders, in some circumstances the federal government supplements the state program. It did this in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a lockdown. Most businesses in the country were required to close, causing nonessential workers to become unemployed.

To assist those workers, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act intended to provide extra assistance to workers who lost their jobs or income due to the coronavirus pandemic. This law expanded eligibility for UI benefits and also provided expanded supplemental unemployment benefits.

The initial CARES Act, passed in March 2020, carried a supplemental payment of $600 per week for unemployed persons. This was termed federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits. The CARES Act also added up to 13 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits and extended UI eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

Extensions to Federal UI Programs

These supplemental benefits ended on July 31, 2020, and from then through December 26, 2020, there were no supplemental federal payments. Congress then passed the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to provide a $300 per week supplemental benefit in addition to state-provided benefits. The legislation also set the program to last until March 14, 2021. The supplemental payments were further extended through September 6, 2021, by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.

The CAA that extended the benefit duration by 13 weeks was set to expire on December 31, 2020, but was amended to provide 24 additional weeks and extended through March 14, 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 further increased the total number of benefit weeks available to Iowa residents to a total of 64 weeks.

The federal law that extended UI benefits to self-employed and gig employees initially was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA extended these benefits until March 14, 2021, and they have been further extended by the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to September 6, 2021.

Iowa Unemployment Eligibility Requirements

Anyone who loses their job in Iowa can apply for unemployment insurance benefits from the Iowa Unemployment Insurance Division (IWD). This agency determines a claimant's eligibility for state benefits and also for federal pandemic benefits based on federal law.

To apply for benefits, an Iowa worker must file an unemployment claim with the IWD. The information provided is used to determine whether they are eligible under the applicable laws.

In order to be eligible for UI under Iowa state law, the worker must show:

  • They are unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
  • They are able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
  • They earned wages in at least two of the four calendar quarters in their base year.
  • They meet other wage requirements during their base period.

Fault Under Iowa UI Law

In Iowa, the reason a worker lost their job is an issue when determining eligibility. Any employee fired for fault or misdeeds is not considered to be out of work due to no fault of their own, so they will be ineligible for benefits. The IWD Appeals Bureau has ruled that behaviors such as these constitute misconduct:

  • Repeated unexcused absences without proper notification.
  • Insubordination like repeated refusal to follow reasonable instructions.
  • Threatening or assaulting coworkers.
  • Refusal to follow workplace rules after repeated warnings.

But a fired worker is not automatically ineligible. A worker in Iowa may still qualify for UI benefits if they were fired for reasons other than misdeeds. For example, a worker fired because they lacked the skills to perform the work may be eligible. And a worker who quits a job in Iowa may still be eligible for UI if they had good cause for quitting. The reason must be work related and the worker must show good cause. Quitting for good cause might include quitting because of:

  • Unsafe working conditions.
  • Significant changes in the hiring agreement.
  • Not getting paid or difficulty getting agreed-upon pay.

A worker who quits for a personal reason usually doesn't qualify for UI, no matter how good the reason. They might be eligible in certain limited circumstances, like when a worker quits to move with their military spouse. But they will not be eligible if they quit because they don't have transportation or childcare lined up, because they don't think they are paid enough or because they don't like their supervisor.

Federal Law Modifies Fault Rules

The federal legislation that created pandemic UI benefits modified state laws by supplementing the list of coronavirus-related reasons a worker can use to leave their job and still be eligible for UI. Under federal law, the worker can stop working and get UI benefits if the worker:

  • Is ill with COVID-19.
  • Thinks they were exposed to the virus.
  • Has been advised by a doctor to stay home so they are not exposed to the virus or won't expose others.
  • Must stay home to care for someone with COVID-19.
  • Has to care for a child at home because the child's school or childcare center is closed due to coronavirus.

Minimum Income Requirements

Under Iowa law, an employee is eligible for unemployment coverage only if they earn a certain minimum amount of money during a base period. The Iowa base period is a 12-month segment of time comprising four calendar quarters in the claimant's recent work history. The agency calculates the most recent five calendar quarters completed before the person filed the unemployment insurance claim, then uses the earliest four as the base period. A calendar quarter means three consecutive months for example, January through March, or October through December.

The state requires that, to be eligible for UI, an employee must have earned:

  • Wages in a least two of the four quarters in the standard base period.
  • At least $1,430 in the highest paid quarter and $720 in the lowest-paid quarter.
  • Wages in the total base period that are at least 125 percent of their highest quarter wages.

An Iowa worker is not eligible for federal pandemic unemployment benefits unless they meet the financial qualifications for state benefits. That means that a failure to meet any of these earnings-based state requirements will disqualify the worker from both state and federal benefits.

Work-Search Requirements

Generally, to get unemployment benefits, a worker must be actively seeking work. An out-of-work employee cannot get state unemployment benefits in Iowa unless they are available to work, prepared to work and actively seeking work. Anyone who is not ready to take a job or is not seeking a job will not get UI benefits.

Ready to work means that the worker has no obvious barriers to taking a job, such as lack of childcare or lack of transportation. The state generally requires that a worker reach out to two employers each week and be able to provide a report of their contacts if requested.

Pandemic Unemployment Modifications

Federal pandemic legislation has modified the available-to-work requirement of Iowa UI law in certain situations. Under the CARES Act, a worker is not required to seek work if they are ill from COVID-19, caring for someone who has COVID-19 or taking care of minor children because schools are closed. If they have been ordered not to leave the house by their doctor or by government order, they can also continue to collect UI without looking for a job.

Calculating Iowa Benefit Amounts

A worker's UI benefit in Iowa is calculated by using the wages in the calendar quarter of their base year in which they earned the most money, and it depends on whether the worker has dependents and, if so, how many. The IWD uses this formula:

  • With no dependents, a worker will receive their highest quarter wages divided by 23.
  • With one dependent, the highest quarter wages are divided by 22.
  • With two dependents, the highest quarter wages are divided by 21.
  • With three dependents, the highest quarter wages are divided by 20.
  • With four or more dependents, the highest quarter wages are divided by 19.

The benefit amount must be between the minimum of $62 and the maximum of $511. The general rule is that the more a worker earns in the highest calendar quarter of the base period, the higher their weekly benefit. The federal pandemic legislation offers a worker who has been approved for state UI benefits an additional $300 a week in supplemental pandemic UI benefits.

In Iowa, UI benefits are available for up to a maximum of 26 weeks. However, the CARES Act and other federal laws have extended the duration of benefits to 70 weeks. That provision is effective through September 6, 2021.

FAQs and Answers

​​Q:​ How do I apply for UI benefits in Iowa?​

​​A:​ ​ A claimant can apply for UI benefits in Iowa either by phone or online. Directions to apply and additional information can be found at the website of the Iowa Unemployment Insurance Division, which is part of the Iowa Workforce Development (IWD).

​Q:​ How much money will I get every week in UI benefits in Iowa?

​​​A​: ​​​ ​A worker who qualifies for UI benefits in Iowa will get a weekly benefits payment by direct deposit or debit card. The amount of the payment is determined by a formula: the wages in the highest-earning calendar quarter in their base year divided by 23. If the person has a dependent, their highest-earning calendar quarter wages are divided by 22, with two dependents by 21, with three dependents by 20 and with four or more dependents by 19. The maximum benefit is $511, the minimum is $62. Add to this the $300 weekly benefit from the federal pandemic legislation, which lasts through September 6, 2021.

​Q: ​ For how many weeks can I get benefits?

​​A:​​ ​​ Under Iowa state law, an unemployed person who qualifies for UI benefits can get their weekly benefit for up to 26 weeks. However, this time period has been extended by federal pandemic unemployment legislation to a maximum of 70 weeks of benefits.

​​Q: Can a self-employed worker or a gig worker get unemployment benefits in Iowa?

​​​​A:​​​ ​​ Under state law, only employees are entitled to UI benefits in Iowa. The program is funded by an unemployment insurance tax on employers, and only employees of participating employers are eligible. However, eligibility was expanded to include self-employed persons and gig workers under the federal CARES Act. The law is set to expire on September 6, 2021.​

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