Victory for Senior Citizens and High School Students

The following column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during July, 2021.  This version appeared in the Morrison County Record.
Victory for senior citizens and high school students

Minnesota senior citizens, high school students and their allies have just produced a huge victory.

“This experience shows what can happen when people across generations and across political parties band together to right a wrong. This is how democracy is supposed to work.”   That’s how Matt Norris, policy director at Youthprise, a statewide youth advocacy group sees it. I agree.

The full story, briefly summarized below, would make a fantastic oral history or government project for Minnesota high school students.

Because Republicans and DFLers in the Minnesota House and Senate were willing to listen, respond and compromise, as of July 3, 2022:

• High school students who have been laid off from jobs will be eligible to receive unemployment insurance (which they had earned). This changes a Minnesota state policy dating back to 1939.

• The Social Security “offset” of 50% for senior citizens laid off is eliminated.

Kate Schaefers, from Shoreview, volunteer president of AARP-Minnesota and executive director of the University of Minnesota Advanced Careers Initiative told me: “AARP is pleased Minnesota joins other states in repealing this law. Minnesota is the only state in the nation that reduces by 50% Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits for laid off workers who, within the first year, either receive, have applied, or intend to apply for Social Security (SS) benefits. As a result, many low-income older workers were denied all state UI and federal benefits designed to help workers during the pandemic economic crisis.”

Cole Stevens, 19, of Bloomington, is one of the young people who started trying to change the youth unemployment insurance policy more than a year ago. He told me that experiences over the last year have convinced him: “Youth today are plagued by countless anxieties about the world they’ve inherited. This victory is a light in the darkness, and proof that with mentorship and persistence, our next generation of leaders is unstoppable.”

With help from Youthprise, Stevens and other high school students started Bridgemakers, online here. As this group pointed out, “Part-time employment provides thousands of Minnesota high school students with critically needed income for living, housing and/or college expenses.”

Bridgemakers helped organize a successful challenge after Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) ruled last year that high school students laid off due to the pandemic were not eligible for either state unemployment insurance or federal “pandemic unemployment assistance.” The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 1, 2020, that students were eligible for federal funds. But the state law remained in effect until the Legislature changed it during the recent special session. Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill containing this change.

Both Walz and DEED Commissioner Steve Grove spoke publicly in favor of the change as it was being discussed.

People from Bridgemakers, AARP-Minnesota and Youthprise offered special praise to Minnesota state senators and representatives who introduced bills and helped produce the final agreement. They include Rep. Mohamud Noor, D-Minneapolis, Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, Rep. Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis and Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City.

This final law was a compromise. As Schaefers told me: “We are disappointed that it is not retroactive, and thus does not help the many low-income older adults who were economically devastated by this law during the pandemic. We are grateful to all who advocated on behalf of this repeal, including our teen partners as well as our legislative champions.”

More information about AARP-Minnesota is here. (Full disclosure – I am a member of AARP.)

Sadly there are other critical issues in which legislators weren’t able to find compromise. I’ll write later this fall about possible priorities for 2022.

However, there’s lots to celebrate. On hearing that the Legislature had passed and Walz had signed the bill, Nancy Jacobs, founder/CEO of Sundance Family Foundation, who personally supported this effort, summarized the result: “Freedom is truly ringing this 4th of July!”

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at Joe@centerforschool, or @JoeNathan9249 on Twitter