Updated: December 17, 2020 06:25 PM
Created: December 17, 2020 05:54 PM
Many Minnesota high school students who were denied unemployment benefits after being laid off from jobs during the pandemic are now eligible for retroactive benefits, but they have to act fast. The deadline to apply is Dec. 26.
"I believe it's critical that government step up in a moment like this where everybody is suffering catastrophe economically and from a health standpoint and that includes high school students," says Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
He filed a brief in support of a lawsuit filed on behalf of high school students denied benefits under an 81-year old state law that prohibits them from collecting unemployment.
"The 1939 law simply does not factor in the reality of the economics for a family today," Ellison said during an online news conference aiming to remind students of the looming application deadline.
Many students who work are helping to support their families financially.
Earlier this month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled high school students can collect federally-fund Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The suit was filed by YouthPrise on behalf of students.
"Our work is clearly not done," says Marcus Post of YouthPrise. "We have a 1939 law that must be repealed."
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"Wow! Look what you did," Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said to students joining the online news conference. "Look what you did. You came together. You organized. You pushed for something you believed and now we're going to be able to get money to young high school students who deserve it because we have an antiquated law in our state that needs to be changed."
DEED estimates high school students who lost jobs could collect between $13 million and $28 million from the federal fund.
However, students would not be eligible in 2021 unless the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz change the law in the next legislative session to allow state funds to cover the cost.
Cole Stevens, a high school senior who was denied benefits last spring as a high school senior, says his income was important to his family.
"I started out just being supplemental to my family's income in high school and even before that just staying out of my mom's pockets working so I could be self-sufficient," he said.
Lawmakers are listening.
"This [federal money] is just a bridge," says Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis. "Using the federal pandemic unemployment assistance should not be the solution. The youth should be eligible for regular UI."
Noor says he'll author a bill in the House and he has an ally in the Republican-controlled Senate.
"We need to make sure everyone who is going to qualify [this year] is made aware and get can apply before December 26th," says Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Brook Park. "Then once that's taken care of we can work on getting this law changed."
The Legislature will face one big obstacle in funding a high school unemployment bill. Although there's a surplus in the current budget cycle, there's a nearly $1.3 billion deficit projected in 2022-2023.
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