June 22, 2016 − State Senate Democratic Whip Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) today said that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) has been devastated by recurring state budget cuts and that the state spending plan now under consideration needs to address agency funding shortfalls.
“The PHRC has an incredibly important job to do and it cannot function properly if its funding is slashed year in and year out,” Williams said today.
Williams was joined at a news conference at the Capitol by his Democratic colleague from Philadelphia Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), Senate Democratic leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Democratic Appropriations Chair Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) other Democratic senators and advocates.
“The agency’s ability to ensure that civil rights protections are upheld has been compromised by chronic underfunding,” Tartaglione said. “We are here to request that additional funds be included in the appropriation for the commission so it has the resources to do its important work.”
The state appropriation for the PHRC has fallen from $10.6 million in 2008 to $8.7 million last year. The total agency budget was reduced from $14.1 million to $10 million over the same time span.
“Incredibly, at a time when we should be doing more to protect civil rights, the agency dedicated to this purpose has had to dramatically cut staff and is under pressure to close cases without proper investigation,” Williams said.
The lawmakers are seeking an additional $2 million in state funding in this budget to bolster operations at the PHRC.
“I am pleased that my Senate Democratic colleagues and those representatives that have been touched by the work of the PHRC have come out today to support the call for more funding,” Williams said. “It is important that those of us who are committed to preserving this agency as a protector of civil rights stay united and put pressure on budget negotiators.”
Williams said that staffing at the commission is at a crisis point. According to the senator, the historical complement of investigators and professional staff has been just under 200 employees. Today, there are only 76 investigators and professionals to handle the agency’s responsibilities.
“Values like equality, service, integrity, excellence and teamwork were once associated with the commission and its operations,” Williams said. “The PHRC was once recognized as a preeminent protector of civil rights.
“We can get the agency back to that position of being a nationally-recognized leader, but it has to be funded properly.”
The call for more funding and for making systemic repairs at the commission follows media reports about upheaval at the agency over the last several years. Allegations of long-time staff being forced out, hostile working conditions and discriminatory hiring practices have been cited in news reports.
The operations of the commission were recently examined at a Senate State Government Committee hearing requested by Williams earlier this month.