By SEANNA ADCOX
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina's unemployment agency has paid off its nearly $1 billion debt to the federal government, five months ahead of schedule.
Gov. Nikki Haley announced that the Department of Employment and Workforce made a final payment Thursday of $120 million.
Director Cheryl Stanton says that means her agency is debt free.
Business' unemployment insurance taxes can now go toward building up benefit reserves, to avoid needing to borrow if the economy nosedives again. Stanton expects the agency's trust fund to have $200 million in it by December.
The debt accumulated between December 2008 and April 2011 as the agency borrowed money to send unemployment checks amid climbing jobless rates, which peaked at 11.9 percent in December 2009. The state made its first payment on the debt in August 2011.