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Lawmaker urges special session to pay Illinois’ remaining unemployment debt

Either remaining federal funds Illinois still holds, or a recently reported windfall in state revenue, should go to pay down the state’s remaining unemployment trust fund debt, a state lawmaker says.

Illinois state government accumulated more than $4 billion in unemployment trust fund debt during the COVID-19 pandemic economic restrictions imposed by the governor. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved using $2.7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief tax funds to pay some of that down. About $1.8 billion remains unpaid.

State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, is calling for a special session so lawmakers can pay off the debt with either remaining federal funds or a recently reported windfall of more than $1.8 billion in state revenue as reported by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

“And with that money, we can easily pay the unemployment insurance debt which equals $1.8 billion and in doing so save Illinois taxpayers money because they will not be paying interest anymore to the federal government,” Ugaste said.

While a so-called speed bump has been delayed from July until January 2023 for business and labor groups to compromise on an agreement to pay down the remainder of the unemployment debt Illinois owes, Ugaste said taxpayers continue to pay interest on the remaining $1.8 billion debt.

“We probably were already, rough math, on the hook for somewhere around $40 million and then the interest would continue accruing,” he said.

Paying the debt also means no prospect of increased taxes on employers or reduced benefits for the unemployed.

Messages seeking comment from the offices of the House Speaker, Senate President and governor were not returned.

Despite $2.7 billion already being paid off, there’s still no clarity on the entire scope of fraud.

“We are not receiving any type of information from the administration as to how much fraud they believe occurred and what those numbers look like and even what processes are taking place to directly address it,” Ugaste said.

Last month, the Illinois Auditor General found the state paid out nearly $2 billion in federal tax funds to fraudsters, but also found “the accounting was so horrendous” they couldn’t fully determine the amount of fraud that occurred.

This article originally appeared on The Center Square.

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