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High school students eligible for Minnesota unemployment insurance

A group of teenage workers who'd been furloughed or laid off then denied benefits due to a 1939 law took the issue to court.

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Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove talks with Fiddlehead Coffee Co. co-owners Sarah Phelan, left, and her brother-in-law, Patrick Phelan, right, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, during a visit to Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

ST. PAUL β€” High school students out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic will be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in Minnesota after young people affected by layoffs and furloughs took their case to court.

A 1939 law preventing high school students from collecting unemployment remains on the books in the state but the Department of Employment and Economic Development opened up applications to teenage workers after the Minnesota Court of Appeals earlier this month overturned a ruling that deemed high school students ineligible to accept the pandemic relief funds.

Department officials on Monday, Dec. 21, urged the 10,000 to 15,000 student workers that they anticipate could benefit from the insurance to apply. And they, along with Walz Administration leaders, said the state should consider eliminating the 1939 law outright in 2021.

β€œThis is an antiquated law if there ever was one,” DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said on a call with students who led the push to let teenage workers access benefits.

MORE: Read more government and politics news from Dana Ferguson in St. Paul

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Earlier this year, high school students applied for the benefits after they were laid off or furloughed and some received benefits. They were later asked to pay back the money when an unemployment law judge said they weren't eligible for the program.

Students who worked jobs to help supplement their families' income said losing their salaries caused substantial hardships for their families. And the debt that came after receiving improper unemployment insurance payments created even more problems.

A handful of those involved in bringing forward the case on Monday said they were thrilled to make a difference and were relieved to be able to continue filling some of the financial gaps their families faced due to the pandemic.

Gov. Tim Walz thanked the workers for bringing the issue forward and for pressing officials to deliver a solution.

"You reinvented the system, you changed this and you got benefits for people," Walz said. " This benefit is waiting, it is available and we need to get people to apply for that."

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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