Minnesota high school students celebrated their eligibility for pandemic-related unemployment assistance on Monday as Gov. Tim Walz encouraged more to apply for the benefits.
"I was super happy, I jumped out of my bed like, 'Ma, look, we got these benefits,' " said Rahma Farah, 17, who has worked since age 14 to help her mother with bills — but had no recourse when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she lost her job.
"She was excited with me. We were all super grateful," said Farah, a student at Minneapolis South High School.
On Dec. 1, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of youth equity nonprofit Youthprise's lawsuit, finding that an unemployment law judge incorrectly determined that high school students were ineligible to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Walz praised the young people who advocated for benefits Monday and encouraged Minnesota's high school students to apply for newly available PUA funds as soon as possible.
Walz recalled how he, as a high school student, worked in construction, on a ranch and as a dishwasher to help the family budget when a parent battled cancer.
"The idea that this is not a real deal, and they're not contributing to their families and that this unemployment insurance didn't make a huge difference was simply false," Walz said.
Walz said that he supports lawmakers who are now working to change the 1939 Minnesota law that bars otherwise qualified high school students from receiving unemployment benefits.
Rep. Mohamed Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, said at a news conference last week that they hope to continue bipartisan efforts to change the law in January.
"This is going to be a big issue during the upcoming session. … I want to promise the youth that I'll be fighting for you to make sure that we repeal this old law," Noor said.
Whether they are looking to buy a car or pay for college or vocational school, high school students deserve these benefits, said Rarick.
"Such a wide range of folks are affected by this, it's not just a metro issue … there are a lot of rural youth as well that this will have an impact," Rarick said.
Until then, lawmakers and young people alike encourage all high school students who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for assistance.
Steve Grove, commissioner of Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development, said last week that the agency expects between 15,000 and 20,000 high school students to apply for unemployment benefits.
The federal PUA program, under which high school students in Minnesota can receive benefits, was set to expire Dec. 26. But Grove noted that students can still apply after that date has passed to receive benefits retroactively.
Grove is planning a series of webinars to walk young people through applying for unemployment benefits. Questions can be posted to social media using #Apply4UI or during the event located on the DEED Minnesota YouTube page.
The next webinars will be Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and Dec. 29 at 4:30 p.m.
Star Tribune staff writer Kavita Kumar contributed to this report. Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation. 612-673-7112 • @zoemjack