SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois Democratic leaders announced Thursday that they have agreed to repay federal pandemic-relief loans more than a year earlier than scheduled, saving taxpayers $100 million in interest.
The plan was announced as Democrats who control the House and Senate head into the final 10 days of the legislative session, still struggling to find ways to close a $1.4 billion deficit for the budget that begins July 1.
Washington lent money to Illinois in early 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures left economies battered and hundreds of thousands on the unemployment line. Illinois borrowed $3.2 billion and has repaid $2 billion. The rest was due by December 2023, but the state has money to pay it earlier.
“The federal loan was a lifeline to keep our state and our economy afloat,” said Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat. “That our economy has rebounded so strongly that we can now pay it off early is a testament to the resilience of the people and businesses of the great state of Illinois.”
The lethal respiratory ailment continued its carnage Thursday, when the Illinois Department of Public Health reported an additional 1,542 confirmed and probable cases of coronavirus disease, which claimed 42 more lives. There have now been 22,536 deaths among 1.37 million cases.
Officials also reported that 47% of Illinois adults have now been vaccinated against the virus. But there were 1,488 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 404 of whom were in intensive care units and 226 receiving assistance breathing from ventilators.
The coronavirus marched into Illinois in late January 2020 and by March, most businesses and schools were closed, large gatherings banned, and for several weeks, residents strongly urged to stay home.
State revenue plummeted and it borrowed $3.2 billion. By last fall, key revenue indicators such as sales tax collections started rebounding beyond expectations and have continued into this spring. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed a budget which would have required covering a $2.6 billion deficit, but his administration has been able to adjust it downward since.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza said she now can structure payments to relieve the debt during the next budget year, which begins July 1.
Mendoza joined Pritzker, Harmon, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside in making the announcement.
By JOHN O’CONNOR for the Associated Press