Cutbacks Make Civil Rights An ‘Unfunded Mandate’ Agency Workloads Double As Funds Shrink, Study Says
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said that federal civil rights laws have little meaning today because the agencies charged with enforcing the laws and investigating civil rights complaints do not have enough money or staff to do their jobs properly.
The commission, an independent government agency under the executive branch, released a study Friday showing that, while the workload of enforcement agencies has more than doubled since 1981, funding has decreased.
“Practically speaking, our civil rights laws remain unfunded mandates,” said Mary Frances Berry, who chairs the commission. “Persons entitled to the protection of the federal government cannot be sure of receiving it, particularly on a timely basis.”
Berry said that a decline of about 20 percent in agency staffing levels, along with a 50 percent increase in the number of complaints filed, has created such a backlog of cases that a young person could “get old and die” before a case is resolved.
“The agencies in most cases are doing their jobs. They just can’t do it effectively,” Berry said.
In light of the tight federal budget, the commission is not expecting a large increase in funding.
President Clinton’s budget would increase staff levels by 6 percent but would still leave staffing 14 percent below 1981 levels. Funding under the House-Senate compromise budget, the outlines of which were announced Thursday, has not been determined. The commission hopes that its report will persuade lawmakers not to cut the enforcement agencies’ funds when the budget goes through the appropriations process later this summer.
Berry said she is confident that some increase in funding will be approved. The agencies charged with enforcement of civil rights laws include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and enforcement branches of the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, Labor and Housing and Urban Development. They experienced their steepest cuts during the Reagan administration.