By DAVID PITT
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa is nearing passage of a dramatic reduction in unemployment benefits to try to force people to fill thousands of open jobs and reverse a trend in which the governor argues the state’s “safety net has become a hammock.” A measure supported only by the Republicans who control the Legislature would reduce allowable unemployment payments from 26 weeks to 16 weeks, placing Iowa among only six states with such severe limits. Currently, 40 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico pay up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. The proposed reduction comes as Iowa’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in February and the state’s businesses have struggled to hire enough workers. GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds has made the cutbacks a priority.