Unemployment benefits just out of reach for many BYU students

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BYU students are being furloughed from campus jobs, and many do not qualify for unemployment benefits.

More than 100,000 Utahns filed for unemployment benefits during the first week of May, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. That’s just the number of individuals who qualified in order to file a claim, but the actual number of Utahns who have become unemployed since the pandemic began could be much higher.

At BYU, as more buildings close and others remain open only for reduced hours, some BYU students are finding themselves unemployed.

In an official statement, BYU said it anticipated shifts in the demand for student employees, including decreases in areas like the Missionary Training Center, and increases in areas like Physical Facilities.

“There are likely to be students who need to continue to work and we should accommodate them, while working to ensure that assigned work is productive,” the statement reads.

The BYU Store entrance with a new sign describing the new reduced store hours. As a result of store hours being reduced, many student employees have been let go or transferred (Hannah Miner).

The statement was a prediction of things to come for some. Isaiah Rogers, a junior studying media arts, was an employee at the Cannon Center until he was recently let go.

“They kept me on as long as they could,” Rogers said. “They have switched out the student employees with full-time MTC dining employees.” (The MTC was closed at the end of March.)

In the meantime, Rogers returned home to California to work at a grocery store because California’s minimum wage is higher than Utah’s. “I have a better job waiting for me in the fall as a TA,” he said.

Employers across BYU have had to make difficult staffing decisions in response to the pandemic. BYU Media Relations Manager Todd Hollingsheadsaid each employer must decide who the essential employees are.

“The university continuity manager asked all campus departments to evaluate their operations and identify essential operations that would have to continue if the county or state issued a shelter-in-place order,” Hollingshead said. “Each unit was asked to review their conclusions with their dean or director so that BYU could quickly determine how to comply with such an order.”

A student employee works on the soda machines in the Cougareat. (Preston Crawley)

A student can qualify for state unemployment benefits when he or she has had a job with the same employer for the last four quarters or longer. Many students would not meet the qualifications, because a minority of student employees choose to work through the spring and summer at BYU.

Hollingshead said that every spring and summer term, BYU sees fewer students than any other time of year. “Any given year, we average about 33,000 students in the fall and winter, about 10,000 students in spring and between 7,500 and 8,000 in summer,” Hollingshead said. With fewer students in classes, there are fewer students working campus jobs as well.

Dining Services Director Dean Wright said the changes in his department have been drastic. During the school year, Dining Services typically employs 2,000 students, but that number has recently dropped to only 170 employees. He said his department, second in employment only to the Physical Facilities Department, wants to bring all the student employees back as soon as possible.

Shawna Martin is the campus-wide hiring manager for custodial services. Lately, she’s also been managing student jobs in housing, and she’s seen an increase in student hires, as student jobs have shifted to in-need areas. “We have over 1,200 students working for us now and before all this started, we had about 900,” she said.

In 2019, Martin’s department also saw fewer student employees in the spring and summer; the number was close to 700.

BYU Physical Facilities saw the opposite. According to administrative assistant Stacey S. Meldrum, the department hired more students in the spring and summer. In the most recent fall and winter semesters, there were about 180 students working various jobs in the department. During the spring and summer terms, there are about 227.

BYU Human Resources helps employers across campus compensate for fewer student employees by allowing the students to work extra hours during the spring and summer terms. The BYU Holiday/Break Schedule outlines the dates that students can work extra hours.

“We follow that to the letter,” Martin said. This schedule allows for fewer employees to make up the work of those who decide to leave campus for the summer.

Students can know if they qualify for unemployment by visiting the Utah Department of Workforce Services website, where they will be prompted to enter their Social Security number. The site will then tell the user what benefit they qualify for — or whether they don’t qualify. According to the site, the department receives 99% of all unemployment benefits claims online.

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