Unemployment benefits deadline approaching for high school students impacted by COVID-19

High school graduate Cole Stevens found himself in debt after receiving unemployment benefits from the state. He applied after losing his job when The Grind Coffee closed its doors as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"After paying rent and putting food on the table, a week later I got a letter saying that [the Department of Employment and Economic Development] needed to get it all back from me," he told FOX 9.

Stevens said he would have to pay back more than $3,700 until the Minnesota Court Appeals got involved.

"Keep in mind, students are being denied unemployment benefits solely for being in high school. This has nothing to do with age," said Stevens.

The court ruled on Dec. 1 that high school students are within their right to apply for unemployment benefits if they lost their jobs because of the coronavirus under the CARES Act. 

But students are running out of time.

"Young people need to go and apply for benefits by Dec. 25 in order to preserve their right to these benefits," said Marcus Pope, vice president for the local nonprofit Youthprise.

Pope said the court’s decision could make available up to $28 million for young people statewide.

"Many of the youngsters were using their salaries to pay for basic [needs] including heat, lights, food for their families, and they were saving for college," said Joe Nathan, director for the Center for School Change

The court’s ruling is retroactive, which means students who lost their job at the beginning of the pandemic are eligible to apply. 

"This is important for high school students because, first of all, we’re the lowest-paid workers and we’re underserved," said Lincoln Bacal, a recent high school graduate. "We pay our taxes and pay into the system, and we should be able to receive benefits the way other people would."

In a statement to FOX 9, a spokesperson for DEED stated, "DEED has reviewed the December 1st order from the Minnesota Court of Appeals. We are awaiting the final opinion from the court. The final order will provide guidance and instruction to the department more broadly on eligibility of secondary students for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits."

The statement continues, "We encourage all students whose work has been impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic should apply before CARES ACT provisions expire. We will determine individual eligibility once we receive final guidance from the court of appeals."