(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity said Tuesday her office needs a $3 million budget increase to hire more staff, replace equipment and bolster its fraud protection services after a taxing year under pandemic conditions.
“I’m a committed fiscal conservative and am dedicated to frugality and the wise use of taxpayer dollars,” she said during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “[But] a modest increase in Treasury’s budget is required this year for several compelling reasons.”
Garrity, the first Republican elected to the office in two decades, said a combination of rising salary and benefit obligations negotiated in collective bargaining agreements, inflation and level funding over prior years has, in effect, reduced its operating budget 3.5% since 2018.
“Yes, Treasury has had a black budget, but we’ve also had mandatory increases every year,” she said.
Garrity said most of the increase would cover existing contract obligations and supply costs. It would also fund 13 new positions in the department, bringing its total complement to 307 – still short of the 322 staffers the department employed just two years ago, she said.
“We think 307 is the sweet spot,” she said.
The department also needs $193,000 for a new high volume printer after producing more than 2 million unemployment compensation checks last year under the federal government’s expanded jobless benefit programs.
“That’s almost 70 times the amount we printed pre-pandemic,” Garrity said. “So our current check printer is toast.”
The department also seeks to spend $446,000 upgrading its virtual desktop infrastructure to further support teleworking and $23,000 for enhanced fraud protections.
Last year, about half of the 2.3 million people that sought benefits under the Pennsylvania Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PPUA) program were rejected for filing fraudulent applications. The department said it recovered $1 billion in state funds that “fraudsters attempted” to acquire through the program.