Minnesota high school students sue the state for denying unemployment help

MPLS courthouse
Photo credit Buyenlarge / Contributor

A group of Minnesota high school students has filed a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota after being denied unemployment benefits after they lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is currently a 1939 state law that makes high school workers ineligible for unemployment benefits despite employers paying into the system on their behalf.

The federal CARES Act established a special program to cover employees like these students who are normally ineligible for unemployment benefits, but the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) continues to deny students who contribute their income to household expenses and others access to their rightful benefits. "The income from my job helped my family pay the rent, and feed our family,” plaintiff Roosevelt student Cole Stevens said. “We are over six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the state is still asking me to pay back the benefits I earned.”

On behalf of the plaintiffs and youth across the state, Minneapolis-based Youthprise organized the suit being brought in Federal court.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs say high school students across Minnesota have been denied benefits, even though their employers contribute to the Unemployment Insurance fund on their behalf just like they do for adult employees.
 
“Too often we dismiss the rights of youth (or 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. “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.”
 
According to the press release;
 
The CARES Act defines “covered individual” for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to mean an individual who “is not eligible for regular compensation or extended benefits under State or Federal law or pandemic emergency unemployment compensation under section 2107.”
 
To the extent that an individual otherwise qualifies for PUA benefits, the fact that the individual is a high school student does not disqualify him or her from receiving those benefits.
 
A state entering into an agreement to administer PUA benefits is entitled to payment from the federal government in the amount of 100% of benefits paid pursuant to the agreement, plus administrative expenses that the state incurs, meaning there would be no cost to the state if the youth plaintiffs are successful in securing PUA benefits for high school students.