State of MN Demands High School Students Return Mistaken Coronavirus Unemployment Checks

Who says students aren’t learning much during the the shutdown of schools and cancellation of classes for the rest of the school year due to the coronavirus recess? Some Minnesota high schoolers have gotten an invaluable crash course in how government can give and take away taxpayer resources, sometimes even at the same time.

The lesson learned came in the form of COVID-19 unemployment checks administered by the state and applied for by some students who lost their jobs because of the virus. But the recipients quickly got a civics lesson in government red tape, according to KARE TV.

In Minnesota, high school students can’t receive unemployment benefits while enrolled in school. But somehow – some students who lost their jobs applied and were approved. Then, after receiving and spending the money the state wants the money back. 

Cole Stevens is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. He said he applied for unemployment insurance and was approved.

“I was happy about that. We were behind on some bills so I used that money to pay those bills. Then two days later I got a letter asking for all of it back, $1,314 they wanted back from me,” Stevens said. “Worse than broke I am now in debt.”

Stevens said he used the money to help pay rent and keep the Internet running – an essential as he completes his last week of distance learning before graduation. 

The same thing has happened to an unknown number of students who also held jobs while in high school to help make ends meet. By the time the students found out a quirk in the law prevented them from qualifying for unemployment assistance, the state money was already out the door.

“They want everything back. Everything. If I would’ve known from the beginning I wouldn’t have applied, this is more problem right now,” [Washburn High School junior Abdirisak] Mohamud said. “I don’t know how I am going to pay the money back. I used it to help my family and fix my car.”

Mohamud said 12 people live in his home, including his parents. Like Stevens, Mohamud said his family relies on him for support.

The law has been on the books for decades. But something went haywire in the rush  to process  so many unemployment claims, according to a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development spokesman.

DEED works very hard to ensure we’re paying only those who are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. When we find out someone got paid who shouldn’t have, we have an obligation to Minnesota taxpayers to correct the situation (known as an “overpayment”). If someone disagrees with an overpayment determination, they have the right to an appeal – and for non-fraud overpayments, we do not charge any interest or penalties.

The mistake might not amount to much in the way of dollars and cents to a bureaucracy that collects and redistributes billions of tax dollars. But the mix-up left the students in a worse financial bind than before. While it comes at a cost, it could be a valuable lesson that pays for itself in the long run on the realities of relying too much on government.

“I want the state to Minnesota to see this is a ridiculous law. I do not think I should have to pay that money back,” Stevens said.  “It is an 81-year-old law. Times are changing. If they want the economy to pick up people need money. Kids works hard and in some cases, harder than adults because nobody ever takes us serious.”