Denied unemployment and prisoner issues among top complaints to Iowa Ombudsman

A man walks past a nearly empty parking lot in front of the Iowa State Capitol building in March 2020 (Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

DES MOINES – Complaints to the Iowa Ombudsman about the state agency that handles unemployment claims tripled in fiscal 2021, with a large portion coming from Iowans who received unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, then later saying they had to pay back the money.

“It is no understatement to say that every appellant was in a state of panic over this turn of events,” the state mediator’s office reported on Wednesday. “Some were told they had to pay back $ 10,000 or more in benefits. “

Overall, complaints to the ombudsman rose 9% in the year ended June 30, with the largest share – 28% – coming from those incarcerated in the prisons of the Iowa.

Other branches of government with many complaints filed against them were County Government (20%), Social Services (9%), Municipal Government (9%), Community Corrections (5%), and Development of the workforce (3.3%), according to a 26-page report released Wednesday.

the Mediator investigates complaints against Iowa state or local government agencies or officials. When the office finds an “error, arbitrary or illegal action”, it works with the agencies to resolve the issues. The ombudsman can also make recommendations to the Iowa Legislature on issues he finds.

Iowa is one of five states in the country to have an ombudsman, but former director Kristie Hirschman, who retired in August after 26 years in office, said she believed the office played a role. important.

“We have the tools, the contacts and the respect for the agencies to solve the problems, and I think that can go a long way,” Hirshman said in an interview included in the report.

Unemployment benefit claims

Unemployment insurance claims rose in March and April 2020 as the coronavirus hit Iowa and restaurants, hotels and other businesses laid off workers. The number of initial complaints remained above normal until around April 2021, The Gazette reported.

Most of the Iowans who called the ombudsman for help with unemployment issues were first-time filers who said they were encouraged to apply for unemployment because their job losses were caused by the pandemic, according to the report.

“Because they continued to receive benefits after weeks of claims, they had no reason to believe they were ineligible,” the report said.

In the case of a woman from central Iowa, she lost her job in 2020 because her face-to-face work could no longer be done due to COVID-19. She applied for unemployment, but every month she emailed her supervisors asking when she could return to work, the mediator reported.

“Despite her diligence, she eventually received a notice of reimbursement of over $ 7,200 in unemployment benefits because she had allegedly ‘not been available for work,'” the report said. “Based on what the woman told us, we thought her complaint was valid. After reviewing the details, the agency agreed with us. ”

Now that unemployment claims have declined, complaints to the Ombudsman’s office about this have slowed down.

Prisoner issues

The Ombudsman received 1,759 complaints or requests for information from state prisoners and 920 others from people held in county jails.

The complaints were wide-ranging, with investigators noting situations in which a prisoner‘s release date was inaccurate, a parent with a 20-year criminal record was not allowed to visit, and an offender in a county jail was not given not his meds. The release of another prisoner has been blocked due to a drug false positive on his inbound mail, the report says.


The ombudsman received 216 Medicaid and managed care complaints in fiscal year 2021. Of those, 124 were investigated and 21 were founded or partially founded, the office reported.

Other human service complaints concerned the placement of children in foster care and investigations into child sexual abuse.

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