As Iowans Tuned in for Safety Updates, Senator Ernst Took a Deceitful Victory Lap on Paid Family Leave, Unemployment Benefits Expansion

On Sunday, Senator Joni Ernst joined Iowa’s official coronavirus briefing to tout Congress’ passage of critical measures including paid family leave and $250 billion expansion in unemployment insurance – while failing to mention she voted to remove both from relief packages.

Senator Ernst’s deceitful victory lap went so far as to call paid family leave a “significant part” of the second relief package – glossing over the fact that just this month, Ernst redoubled her opposition to the essential program at a town hall, well after COVID-19 had begun to afflict the country. Ernst also used the opportunity to paper over her vote against strengthening protections for laid-off Iowa workers. She supported an anti-worker amendment by GOP Senator Ben Sasse based on the outlandish claim that health care professionals would quit their jobs in order to earn unemployment benefits.

Shamefully, Senator Ernst’s efforts to cover her tracks on COVID-19 prevention and relief has become a recurring theme. As the virus was on the cusp of outbreak, Ernst downplayed the evolving pandemic saying that Democrats were trying to “stir up panic,” praised the Trump Administration’s “failure” to take early prevention efforts to stem the crisis, and touted funding increases to the CDC “that she herself voted against.”

Iowa Starting Line: Joni Ernst Touts Paid Sick Leave She Voted Against

By: Libby Meyer

March 30, 2020

  • Sen. Joni Ernst joined Gov. Kim Reynolds Sunday at her daily press briefing via video conference to outline key provisions of the three bills signed by President Trump to assist individual Americans, small businesses and large companies impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Lost amid the list of accomplishments, however, was the vote both Iowa senators took to strip “phase two” legislation, the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” of its paid sick leave provision.

  • Ernst and Grassley were among the 50 senators to vote in favor of Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s amendment “To strike Federally mandated sick pay and paid family leave and replace it with financial support provided through the State administered unemployment insurance systems and funds.”

  • At Reynolds’ Sunday press conference, Ernst called the paid sick leave provision “a significant part” of the phase two bill.

  • “A significant part of phase two was also making sure that our workers, our moms and dads, have paid sick leave, emergency sick leave, so that if they were affected by the coronavirus then they would be covered for the time that they had to take away from their employer,” Ernst said.

  • At a town hall meeting March 6, in response to a question from the audience about federally mandated paid sick leave, Ernst said she did not support it.

  • At the time of her town hall, Iowa hadn’t confirmed any cases of COVID-19. The state’s first three “presumptive positive” cases were announced two days later.

Bleeding Heartland: Ernst, Grassley sought lower payments for unemployed in new COVID-19 bill

By: Laura Belin

March 29, 2020

  • Congress “expanded unemployment insurance by 250 billion dollars” to support laid-off workers, Senator Joni Ernst said during a news conference organized by Governor Kim Reynolds on March 29.

  • She didn’t mention that she and fellow Republican Senator Chuck Grassley had voted to reduce the amount millions of jobless people will receive over the next four months.

  • “Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation” will provide an extra 13 weeks of state unemployment insurance benefits, “which will become available after someone exhausts all their regular state UI benefits.” Most states, including Iowa, provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. The 2009 federal stimulus contained a similar provision.

  • Many Republican senators opposed the first of those three programs, because the extra $600 a week might allow some low-wage workers to receive more than they had earned while employed.

  • Four GOP senators–Ben Sasse, Rick Scott, Tim Scott, and Lindsey Graham –drafted an amendment to cap unemployment insurance at 100 percent of a person’s prior salary.

  • The amendment needed 60 votes to clear the Senate’s threshold for most legislation. It should have been overwhelmingly rejected. But 48 Republicans supported it (roll call), including Iowa’s senators.

  • Only days after Iowans and workers across the country filed the largest number of new unemployment claims ever recorded in a single week, Ernst, Grassley, and every Republican present except for Susan Collins voted to make unemployment benefits less generous. Remember, this group supported huge giveaways for the wealthiest Americans as part of the 2017 tax bill.

  • News releases from Grassley and Ernst touted the CARES Act provisions without mentioning that Iowa’s senators had tried to take $10,800 away from many constituents who qualify for unemployment benefits. It’s standard operating procedure for the pair, who didn’t publicize their votes to remove mandatory paid leave language when bragging about the previous bill Congress approved in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.