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State’s jobless benefits fund in nation’s top 10

Washington’s unemployment compensation fund is among the healthiest in the nation, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project.

With $2.1 billion in reserves as of March 31, the Washington system ranked ninth strongest among the 13 still solvent after more than two years of heavy job losses around the United States, according to the study.

The reserves, more than twice those of any other state, are enough to sustain payments for another 10 months.

The $1 billion in the Louisiana fund will cover payments there for the next 21 months.

California, with a deficit of $8.4 billion, is the least solvent of the 33 state funds that have turned to the federal government for $38.7 billion in loans to continue making payments to unemployed workers.

Idaho, the only Northwest state with a fund in the red, has borrowed $181 million.

The National Employment Law Project is a New York-based advocate for low-income and unemployed workers, funded in part by labor groups.

The NELP report attributes the funding problems to a reduction in the percentage of wages assessed, from 45 percent in 1980 to 27 percent in 2008, and a halving of unemployment insurance tax rates – from 1.5 percent in 1983 to 0.7 percent in 2009.