Fla. unemployment borrowing may top $1 billion

By Olga Pierce, ProPublica

gt_job_fair_florida_090831.jpgFlorida has become the 19th state to borrow funds to keep unemployment benefits flowing after its unemployment trust fund ran dry.

So far the state has borrowed $45 million, but state officials estimate the state will have borrowed $1.2 billion by the end of the year.

As we detailed earlier this year in our series with public radio's Marketplace, states operate their own unemployment insurance systems with little federal control over benefit levels and how well they choose to finance their systems. Like many states, Florida only requires employers to pay unemployment insurance tax on the first $7,000 of each employee's income -- the federal minimum, which has not been updated since 1983.

Is your state's trust fund in danger of running out? See our interactive map.

Because of the stimulus bill, states have until January 2011 to pay back their loans with no interest. But if Florida's balance is not repaid before then -- a process that in many states has necessitated business tax increases or benefit cuts -- Florida will face tens of millions of dollars of interest payments that must be repaid from its general fund, taking money away from other state priorities.

(Image: A man talks to a recruiter for the Broward Sheriff's department as helooks for a job during the RecruitMilitary Career Fair at Land SharkStadium on Aug. 20, 2009 in Miami, Fla., Joe Raedle/Getty Images)