A group of Minnesota high school students and Youthprise, supported by other youth organizations, have won a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota for high school students who lost wages after January 27, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On December 1, 2020, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the high school students and Youthprise allowing impacted high school students the right to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
PUA is a federally funded COVID-19 program that allows workers not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits to be covered. In Minnesota, high school students are not eligible for unemployment benefits and the State of Minnesota had previously refused to allow them to be eligible for PUA.
“By DEED’s own estimate, this ruling could unlock $13.7 - $27.9 million in federal funds for Minnesota high school students,” said Matt Norris, Director of Policy at Youthprise. “At a time when so many Minnesotans are struggling to make ends meet, this court victory will put money in the pockets of students and their families when they need it most.”
The 1939 Minnesota state law that prevents high school students from receiving unemployment insurance was one of the strictest such laws in the country, forcing many hard-working students to choose between staying in school or dropping out to receive unemployment benefits and help support their family.
“When the lawsuit was announced back in October, we immediately began hearing stories from youth in Duluth to Albert Lee and Marshall to Burnsville who have been impacted by loss of employment, being forced
The case was supported by an amicus brief from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office, in support the case arguing that the CARES Act was specifically targeted to reach those who normally would not have been eligible for unemployment benefits. And when you look closer at the statistics, according to Ellison’s office, you will see that 25% of Black high school students working give roughly 41% of their earnings to help pay family bills, and 22% of Hispanic students do the same.
“I just want to give a huge shout-out to Attorney General Keith Ellison and his entire office for standing up for young people and being courageous,” said Pope.
The quick and favorable ruling removes a significant roadblock for young people in Minnesota, and especially for Minnesota’s indigenous, low-income, and racially diverse youth. And while the 1939 law remains, Youthprise will always continue their efforts to repeal it.
“Nearly ten years ago I publicly said Youthprise would jump into the fire with and for young people and won’t even feel the heat,” said Wokie Weah, President of Youthprise. “It was true then and is even truer now. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling aligns perfectly with our mission and values and only confirms why we will continue fighting for change.”
High school students who have lost employment during the pandemic, will need to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance before the deadline on December 25, 2020 and visit uimn.org for details. Youth, families, and communities can benefit from these federal resources that were denied to them. For questions, visit Youthprise.org.