Lawmakers will return for a day this week with lingering unemployment debt

It is not clear whether one of the priorities of state lawmakers returning to the capital will be to pay off outstanding unemployment insurance debt owed to the federal government.

They canceled session days for Tuesday and Thursday this week, but lawmakers will be in session Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield.

Lawmakers have days scheduled until April 8. State Senator Doris Turner, D-Springfield, says there are some things she is focusing on during this session.

“Some of it is around workforce development, agriculture, safety in schools is really a big issue and then some shortages of rural health care providers,” Turner told WMAY. “Infrastructure projects are always on everyone’s priority list. “

Turner said another priority is the budget.

State Representative Tim Butler, R-Springfield, predicts that after Wednesday’s in-person session, lawmakers may not return in person until next month. He will be watching this session to see how Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state legislature, prepare the budget.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk that they’re going to try to get a budget passed, done at the start of this year, but I think they’re going to have another problem with the fact that they’re not going. see so much federal money going down the pike, ”he said.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state of Illinois and local government and private industry have been promised $ 162 billion in federal tax funds for COVID relief.

An unresolved issue is the unemployment trust fund debt that swelled during the governor’s stay-at-home order and subsequent economic restrictions from 2020 to part of last year.

Illinois taxpayers already have to pay millions of interest on the $ 4.5 billion unemployment debt. If not resolved this year, it could represent almost $ 100 million in interest.

Controller Susana Mendoza has requested the removal of interest as the pandemic continues.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask and whenever we can avoid paying unnecessary interest, which is nothing more than setting money on fire, I prefer to do it,” he said. declared Mendoza. “At least give it a try. “

While Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO Mark Denzler has said he supports the request, he does not expect it to be granted. Until then, the debt will still be owed.

“And it’s money that can be better spent on things like health care and infrastructure, public safety and economic development,” Denzler told The Center Square. “Instead, we’ll probably use it to pay interest on a multi-billion dollar debt.”

One option could be for lawmakers to use billions of unspent federal tax dollars held by Illinois, but it’s not clear if that will be a priority when lawmakers return.

Employers warn that if unemployment debt is not addressed, taxes will be increased on job creators and benefits for the unemployed will be reduced.

The work of The Center Square Illinois focuses on state and local government and economic reports that approach stories with a sensitivity to taxpayers. For more stories from The Center Square, visit

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John A. Bogar