Officials in the Iowa Workforce Development agency have “reversed a decision” to send Iowans filing claims for unemployment assistance to a toll-free phone line rather than giving them the option of meeting with a job-search counselor. Just before that announcement, Senator Bill Dotzler had denounced the idea during a speech on the senate floor.

“It’s o.k. to call in for certain circumstances or if you can’t make the trip, but you need to look at one of these counselors in the eye and you need to talk to them about not only about collecting benefits, but the steps in getting employed,” Dotzler said.

Just last week the Workforce Development agency announced it would be starting a pilot project in the Des Moines area to have unemployment Iowans call a toll-free number or go online to sort things out.

“Now, a person who files for unemployment benefits gets on the phone and gets the benefits coming in the mail thinks the job is done,” Dotzler said Monday afternoon. “They can stay on unemployment benefits without meeting with somebody that might motivate them to get to the world of work and connect them with employers.”

Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, believes Workforce Development administrators had the ultimate goal of having all unemployment claims filed by phone or on the Internet. Dotzler suggests when he worked as a “job developer” he found many people who filed for jobless benefits over the phone didn’t immediately start looking for work.

“They ran their benefits out until the point where they started worrying and, if they couldn’t find a job, the next step is welfare benefits,” Dotzler said, “and I don’t think anybody wants us to do that.”

In a written statement announcing the phone-in pilot project had been scuttled, the director of the state agency said a “full spectrum” of face-to-face services for unemployed Iowans is available at 19 Workforce Development offices around the state.

AUDIO of Dotzler’s remarks on the senate floor.