MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Thousands of Minnesota High School students who lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic could now make up some of those lost wages.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that high school students who were laid off due to the pandemic will now be be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

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The decision will make $14 million to $28 million available to teens across the state. A local group of students brought forward this issue to make a change.

“My family never had a lot of money so I learned the value of family and the value of the dollar when I was young,” Cole Stevens, from Bloomington, said.

Stevens was in his senior year at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis when COVID-19 arrived in Minnesota in March. He was close to graduating while working part-time at a coffee shop in Bloomington.

“Right as I’m ready to do that, a global pandemic and the biggest and most historic recession since Great Depression comes along,” he said.

Stevens’ hours were cut and then the coffee shop closed. At first he did receive some unemployment assistance.

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“I got a letter from DEED saying I had to pay all that money back to them, so even worse than being broke I was in debt,” Stevens said.

But now a new court ruling says teenagers like Stevens can receive federal assistance through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. A small group of students pursued the lawsuit along with the Minneapolis based Youthprise. The nonprofit said the decision will be especially beneficial for young people who are Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, who are adversely affected by the impacts of the pandemic.

“About a quarter of Black and Latino students who are working contribute at least 41% of their household income,” Youthprise policy director Matt Norris said.

Director of the Center For School Change Joe Nathan says the local ruling will have big implications for students around the country.

“Under federal law at least interpreted by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, high school students all over the U.S. who lost jobs due to COVID would be due this money,” Nathan said.

The students are still not eligible for state unemployment benefits.

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Eligible high school students need to apply for pandemic unemployment assistance by December 25th. The benefits are also retroactive. Click here for more information.

Kate Raddatz