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Appeals court rules Minnesota high school students can get unemployment benefits

They've been denied the benefits, and some were even asked to pay them back.

Minnesota high school students who were denied COVID-19 unemployment benefits sued the state, and now the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled in their favor. 

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday heard oral arguments related to the lawsuit filed Oct. 1 by Youthprise and a group of Minnesota high school students. And that same day, they found out the court ruled in their favor, a post on Youthprise's Facebook page says

The lawsuit was filed after a few high school students, who've been working to help their families pay bills and rent, filed for unemployment after their hours were cut earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some instances, the students received unemployment plus the $600 per week in CARES Act money – only for the state to then ask for the money back because they received the money in error. 

“The income from my job helped my family pay the rent, and feed our family,” Cole Stevens, a Roosevelt student, said, according to Youthprise. “We are over six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the state is still asking me to pay back the benefits I earned.

A 1939 Minnesota law makes high school workers ineligible for unemployment benefits despite employers paying into unemployment on their behalf, Youthprise says. However, the lawsuit alleges the CARES Act established a special program that allows employees who are normally ineligible for unemployment benefits, like high school students, to receive unemployment. 

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However, the lawsuit says the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) continued to deny students the benefits their entitled to. 

“Too often we dismiss the rights of young people, it’s disturbing that we would do that during a public health crisis when housing and food contributions from these students are critical to family stability,” Youthprise President Wokie Weah said in a statement. “Equity and representation for all of Minnesota’s youth is critical. Unfortunately, we know the denial of these benefits is impacting low-income and racially diverse students more than others.”

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling means eligible high school students can start receiving the unemployment money they are owed, Youthprise says. KARE 11 reports the appeals court overturned an unemployment judge's previous ruling, which means up to 39 weeks of benefits could now be available for high school students. 

Youthprise says those who haven't yet applied for unemployment benefits must do so by Dec. 25. Those who have already applied don't need to reapply because the benefits are retroactive. 

This is good news for many high school students. Youthprise says in the summer of 2019, 6.6% of the state's workforce were between the ages of 16 and 19, and more than 10% of those workers reported using at least 41% of their income to help their family pay bills. 

In a statement to Bring Me The News, DEED said, "DEED has reviewed yesterday’s order from the Minnesota Court of Appeals. We are awaiting the final opinion from the court."

Previously, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said he supported legislative changes to the 1939 law, the Star Tribune reported

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