State wants unemployment benefits back from high school worker it mistakenly approved

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A 16-year-old student who works part-time after school and on weekends says he was approved for unemployment insurance through the State of Minnesota.

But, it turns out, since he’s a student, he’s not eligible. Now, the state wants its money back but Cameron Croes says he already spent most of it.

“I have a fraction of it,” said Croes, a high school junior.

The teenager has been working for four years after school and on weekends for Wintergreen Property Maintenance. He was laid off as COVID-19 ramped up, and he said his employer told him to apply for unemployment benefits through the state.

“I filled out the forms 100% accurate. They asked my age, what grade I'm in, and I filled all that out truthfully,” he said.

The application was approved, and the state sent Croes more than $3,500 over the span of several weeks.

The teenager said he spent the money on his car and put some away for education, among other things.

But recently, Croes received a letter in the mail from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the state’s unemployment office, informing him that he was not eligible.

The letter went on to say the office “… will take action to collect the overpaid unemployment benefits.”

“Eventually, I'm thinking about paying it back,” Croes said. “But I want to know the real reason why I have to pay it back. I'm confused at this point why I have to pay it back.”

A spokesman from DEED told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that employers should not be recommending high school students apply for unemployment since, by law, they’re not eligible until after graduation.

“When we find out someone got paid who shouldn’t have, we have an obligation to Minnesota taxpayers to correct the situation,” said Jake Loesch, a DEED spokesman.

Croes said he might appeal DEED’s decision, especially since he only has about $1,000 of the benefits left.

“If I would have known this would happen, I would have never spent the time and effort to fill out those forms,” he said.