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Payouts put strain on fund

Unemployment benefit payouts in Idaho have hit new records almost every week since November began, the state Department of Labor reported Friday.

The situation has created a dramatic drain on the state’s employer-supported Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which pays regular state benefits. In November 2007, the fund balance was $320 million. By the end of last month, it had been cut almost in half, to $165 million, the department said in a news release.

A record $10.4 million in regular unemployment benefits was paid to an all-time high of 39,000 idled workers in Idaho this week. The dismal state of the economy will trigger an extension of those benefits on Monday, the release said.

In addition to the regular benefit payouts, the department also paid $1.9 million in federally funded extended benefits to 7,100 more out-of-work Idahoans, who had already run out of their regular state benefit allotment, the release said. Some 35 percent of unemployment claimants had exhausted regular state benefits in December.

Idaho’s unemployment rate more than doubled in 2008, from 2.8 percent in January to 6.4 percent in December. Almost 50,000 people were looking for jobs at the end of the year.

The department is taking the steps necessary to prepare to borrow money from the federal government either late this year or early in 2010 to maintain the unemployment benefit payments. A loan will be needed despite a 70 percent increase in tax rates paid by employers in 2009 because of the rapid increase in unemployment.