Suburban, rural and urban Minnesota youngsters are pleading for what they’ve earned. They worked at restaurants, nursing homes, sporting goods stores, etc. and then were laid off or had to leave because of COVID-19. Yet although they’ve paid into the unemployment insurance system, a bizarre 1939 Minnesota law prevents full-time students from receiving any of these funds. 

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Gov. Tim Walz: Please fix this in the upcoming special session.

Here are a few examples: 

— Cole Stevens, 18, lives in Bloomington and worked at a local coffee shop. He helped pay family expenses, including rent. Cole, who attends Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, was saving for college. He was laid off when the store closed. He applied for and received $1,314 of unemployment insurance. Then the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development decided he was not eligible because he’s a full-time student. They’re demanding he repay the $1,314. The money already has been spent on rent, food and other expenses. 

— Sammi Katz grew up in Golden Valley and is a junior at Hopkins High School. She worked to help pay utility bills and save for college. She was laid off, applied for unemployment insurance and was rejected for the same reason as Cole.

— Walter Cortina, 18, of Minneapolis, attends the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. He has worked to help pay family expenses since he was 13. He’s currently living with an aunt who had cancer. His mother and father were deported to Mexico. Walter was laid off from his car wash job when the pandemic hit. He’s also a full-time student who’s been denied unemployment insurance. He’s helping organize students all over Minnesota who are urging legislators to change the rule. 

— Hopkins High School junior Nicole (whose last name was not made available), of Minnetonka, was working at a sporting goods store until it closed because of COVID-19. She was laid off. She’ll have to pay most of her college expenses. When she applied, she was ruled ineligible for unemployment insurance. 

— Basil Schaefer Lane, 17, of Bloomington, lives with his mother who has stage 4 breast cancer and can’t work. Basil, who attends the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, worked at the Minnesota Masonic Home. He was helping pay basic household expenses. Not want to risk giving COVID-19 to his mother, he stopped working there. Their family finances are “very challenging.” He’s been denied unemployment insurance.

I talked by phone with Basil, Cole and Walter. Nicole, Sammi and other students shared their stories on a “Don’t Forget Us” Facebook page, at, explaining their predicament and legislative proposal. On May 18, I asked Gov. Tim Walz about this situation during a press conference. He responded, referring to the special session, “This is one that should be explored to see if there is something we can do.”

He also mentioned that his daughter is working to help pay college expenses. At the same press conference, Rep. Hortman mentioned that she had heard from students and that the House is considering possibilities.

Recently adopted federal legislation explicitly allows high school students to receive unemployment insurance, using federal funds. But DEED has ruled full-time students can’t receive unemployment insurance, either from state or federal funds.

Bills were introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate (HF 4623 and SF 4625) to make full-time students who’ve been laid off eligible for unemployment insurance for the period March 16 to whenever “bars, restaurants and other places of public accommodation” are opened. It’s a fair short-term fix.

Minnesota Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, told me on May 27: “Seems like if you pay into unemployment insurance, you should be able to collect it. Let’s give these young people what they’ve earned.” Yes, please!

Sen. Gazelka, Rep. Hortman, and Gov. Walz: You will decide. Please listen to these young people.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome,


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