Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that the state's relatively low jobless rate will help him keep his promise to pay off coronavirus-era debt in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund by year's end.
The Democrat announced he will transfer $450 million from the account set aside to pay jobless benefits toward the debt that ballooned to $4.5 billion during business closures forced by COVID-19.
That decreases the remaining balance of the federal loan to $1.8 billion, which Pritzker pledged will be eliminated by the new year. Illinois joined dozens of other states in borrowing money to pay unemployment claims which, in Illinois, surged in spring 2020 to levels not seen since 1982.
"With the COVID-19 pandemic came a disaster of a different kind...," Pritzker said at a Chicago news conference. "All across the United States to make sure eligible individuals could get access to unemployment benefits, extraordinary measures were taken by state unemployment trust funds, because nearly none ... were funded enough to cover that kind of an emergency."
The General Assembly, controlled by Democrats, and Pritzker agreed last spring to use $2.7 billion in federal pandemic relief funds to more than halve the debt. Republicans argued for paying the entire balance with federal money while it was available and to spare increased taxes on employers who fund the account.
But a robust economy has played a key role, said Kristin Richards, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security. August unemployment in Illinois was 4.8%, down from 6.1% a year earlier. Year-to-year decreases in unemployment occurred in nearly all 102 counties.
Tuesday's announcement reflects continued growth in the state's economy, Richards said.
"Statewide payroll jobs are up compared to a year ago," she said. "We are seeing significant gains in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, trade, transportation and utilities industries. We are also seeing over the year decreases in unemployment in 97 counties across the state."