Iowa governor threatens people afraid to return to work before it's safe

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Gov. Kim Reynolds will force workers to choose between their health and their livelihood.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday announced that she is loosening social distancing restrictions implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic and allowing businesses to reopen in the majority of her state — before experts say it's safe.

And in the process, the Republican governor will force workers to choose between their health and their livelihood. Reynolds says that anyone whose workplaces reopen will have to go back to work or else lose their unemployment benefits.

"If you're an employer and you offer to bring your employee back to work and they decide not to, that's a voluntary quit," Reynolds said Friday, according to the Hill news website. "Therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment money."

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Starting May 1, 77 counties in Iowa will allow "restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, race tracks, and certain other retail establishments to reopen in a limited fashion with public health measures in place," according to a statement put out by Reynolds' office.

Reynolds' decision to enforce a "voluntary quit" policy means that workers at those establishments will have to go back to work if their places of employment reopen — even if they fear for their own health or the health of others in their homes due to the coronavirus.

The policy does not comport with Reynolds' own statement Monday that certain populations in the state should continue staying home.

"I strongly encourage all vulnerable Iowans, including those with preexisting medical conditions and those older than 65, in all counties of the state to continue to limit their activities outside of their home, including their visits to businesses and other establishments and their participation in gatherings of any size and any purpose," that statement read.

Employees who fall into those categories would have to go back to work under the reopening policy if their workplaces reopened.

The only workers who could continue to receive unemployment after their workplaces reopened are those who have the coronavirus or are taking care of a family member who does, the Hill reported.

Iowa has reported 6,376 cases of the coronavirus and 136 deaths, according to the New York Times' tracker.

A number of places in Iowa are seeing spikes in the virus. It has spread among workers at meatpacking plants in the state.

Donald Trump has ordered those and other meatpacking plants to stay open, despite the surge of cases, using his authority under the Defense Production Act to classify them as essential infrastructure.

Multiple polls show that the vast majority of Americans do not support reopening the economy, as Reynolds is doing in Iowa, before it's safe.

A Politico/Morning Consult survey released on April 15 showed that 81% of voters say the country "should continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.