New law allows hourly school support staff to apply for unemployment in the summer

Published 8:46 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Last week, the Minnesota state Legislature passed a bill allowing school bus drivers, nutrition staff, paraprofessionals and education support staff within the state to apply for unemployment insurance benefits during the summer if they are unable to find temporary work. 

Previously, hourly workers, including paraprofessionals, bus drivers and cooks were ineligible to apply for unemployment benefits during the off-season.

An approximately $140 million appropriation is requested for the 2024-25 biennium to reimburse schools for their contributions to the fund.

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According to Keith Fleming, superintendent at United South Central Schools, USC did not use third-party providers to find paraprofessionals, school bus drivers or cross guards for the roughly 100 seasonal employees his district used.

He said the new law could make it harder to find temporary summer help for summer school programs.

“People might be less interested in participating in summer work if they can claim unemployment,” he said, adding there would be a financial impact within the district, though he didn’t know exactly what that impact would be for a year or two.

He also felt the program was underfunded by the state.

One of Fleming’s biggest concerns involved administration of the law, adding it would be time-consuming to process claims. He also worried about how the district would be impacted by the number of claims received related to the amount of money the state reimbursed the district. To date, he hadn’t seen any revenue projections for USC.

While he didn’t think the new law would impact the district’s ability to recruit workers during the school year, he was worried seasonal workers could be less inclined to work during the summer months.

“I just don’t see a benefit for the district,” he said.

According to Fleming, USC had already received reimbursement claims since the law was passed.

In a statement, Ron Wagner, superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools wrote, “We support all employees of Albert Lea Schools. We want to ensure that all employees find the balance with their work and family obligations. Over the summer, we have opportunities for all staff to support students through target programming/summer learning. If our employees are not able to be employed during the summer because of family and other obligations, we support other opportunities throughout the summer.” 

Kris Amarosa, a paraprofessional at Lakeview Elementary School, said she was “shocked” when she heard about the new law and admitted she didn’t even know the idea was being considered.

“I thought it was a heck of a break to be able to get some income coming in since we don’t work in the summer,” Amarosa said. “A lot of people have to get summer jobs.”

And while she said she didn’t need the income, she said it was nice to receive extra income.and planned to apply, with benefits going towards basic living needs, including food.

“I think it’s a good thing it passed, and it’ll help out a lot of people,” she said, noting those who worked in the profession often did the work because they enjoyed it.

Amarosa also thought with the exception of those who already had summer work, most of the district’s paraprofessionals would apply for the benefits, though she hadn’t had the opportunity to speak with many because the bill was passed after the school year ended. By her estimation, there were around 100 paraprofessionals in the district.

— Minnesota Public Radio contributed to this story.