Should Iowa’s unemployment benefits change to better aid entrepreneurs?

Anyone who has started a new business knows that along with the great exhilaration and joy, there are many unknowns.

For this reason, state Rep. John Landon, R-Ankeny and Des Moines entrepreneur Gabriel Glynn have teamed up to create legislation that would establish a new pathway for entrepreneurs to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

The legislation, if enacted, would allow the UI system to accept “two business-related meetings” in place of the current requirement. Legislative staff is still working on the definition of “business-related meetings.”

The UI system doesn’t work directly in opposition to those who wish to start new ventures, but it doesn’t encourage it, either. To receive benefits currently, applicants must be eligible and be “actively looking for work” by making at least two job contacts – such as by submitting resumes – a week.

(It is important to note the eligibility rules; this doesn’t mean anyone can just quit their current job and receive UI benefits. The eligibility requirements state that an applicant must have lost his or her job through no fault of their own.)

Glynn said the idea for the legislation came about after he left a job in 2015. Since he wanted to start a new venture, he said conducting interviews with potential employers to receive benefits, would have wasted time.

“This would waste both my time, and theirs. What if there was a way to encourage entrepreneurs – instead of trying to get a job, encourage creating jobs,” he said.

He said he did not apply for unemployment benefits and has not received them.

Under the proposed legislation, Glynn said he thinks the definition of a “business-related meeting” should include “a meeting with the Small Business (Administration), a vendor, a customer, mentor – anything that helps the business grow.”

“The time should be used to further the business,” he said.

State lawmakers have yet to consider the legislation. Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer has said the budget is the priority in the House of Representatives and other policy bills are on hold until legislators make hard budget decisions.

The proposed legislation would also require applicants to officially register their business with the state of Iowa to be waived from the two-interview requirement. This means that there would be an upfront cost for those wanting to take the new path forward.

The bill would not change the duration of time for receiving benefits. Unemployment insurance benefits are available for up to 26 weeks, and in some circumstances, up to 39 weeks.

“Iowa could be the first state to take this step, and it would show one way that we stand out in supporting entrepreneurs,” Glynn said.

After the bill is introduced, it will go through subcommittee hearings, during which the public can provide testimony on the legislation.

If this bill is something that would impact you or your business, be in the lookout for bill text and updates on when to provide input.

Susan Gentz is the deputy executive director for the Center for Digital Education and a contributing writer for Clay & Milk.