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Minnesota urges teens made jobless by pandemic to seek aid

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota state officials are encouraging high school students who lost their jobs due to the pandemic to apply for unemployment assistance, hoping to get the help to more people who may not be aware of a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling that made them eligible.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials held a virtual roundtable with several youth activists on Monday to get high school workers across the state who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic to apply for an estimated $14 million to $28 million in unemployment insurance funds provided by the federal CARES Act, for which they are now eligible.

“Those first few months were extremely challenging for my family and if I had been allowed benefits at the time, it would have taken an immense amount of stress off of my shoulders,” said Rahma Farah, a 17-year-old high school student from south Minneapolis and one of the teens who helped with the effort.

The appeals court’s decision came after youth activists, with the help of Minneapolis youth equity nonprofit Youthprise and support from Attorney General Keith Ellison, challenged a 1939 Minnesota law deeming high school workers ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The activists said during the virtual event that they relied on their paychecks to help their households pay bills and put food on the table before they lost their jobs, and deserved the unemployment benefit as taxpaying members of the workforce.

Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove said that around 10,000 applications are already being processed, and between 10,000 and 15,000 students are estimated to be eligible for the program. Grove said his department held a town hall late last week to help young people navigate the application process on their website, and they plan to hold another before the application deadline on Friday.

Meanwhile, health officials reported 1,998 new infections and 22 deaths on Monday, the lowest number of single-day cases reported since late October.

According to The COVID Tracking Project, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Minnesota continued to decrease over the past two weeks, going from 5,894 on Dec. 5 to about 2,748 on Dec. 19. Hospitalizations across the state have trended downward as well, with 1,040 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 including 237 in intensive care as of Sunday.

Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said during a briefing on Monday there are “pieces of good news in these data,” and the decline in case growth and hospitalizations have given hospitals and healthcare workers breathing room to respond to the virus as vaccination efforts ramp up.

“We think it really highlights how people’s actions to really take these precautionary measures to heart — to avoid the gatherings they would have loved to have around Thanksgiving (and) taking the governor’s pause seriously — are having a very positive impact,” Malcolm said.

Also Monday, CVS Health announced that the company will begin vaccinating more than 63,000 long-term care residents and workers across Minnesota next week. The pharmacy giant began vaccinating long-term care residents and staff in 12 states on Monday, and expects to begin administering the shot in 36 more states, including Minnesota, on Dec. 28 as part of its effort to vaccinate 4 million residents and staff at 40,000 facilities across the country in 12 weeks.

Minnesota began giving Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shots to healthcare workers last week after the vaccine received emergency approval earlier this month. The state’s initial shipment last week contained 46,800 doses, and state health officials expect to receive more than 33,000 this week.