Paying congressional interns is a good thing

While some fiscal conservatives may be skeptical, in actuality these newly approved funds for intern salaries presents a set of unique opportunities to improve human capital on Capitol Hill.

Conferees from both chambers of Congress announced that they reached an agreement over H.R. 5895, the first of three minibus appropriations bills.

This spending package will provide funding to federal agencies such as the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, military capital development, and the legislative branch.

Both chambers of Congress voted to advanced the legislation, also. The Senate voted 377 ‘yea’ votes to 20 ‘nay’ votes with their colleagues in the Senate voting 92 ‘yea’ votes to 5 ‘nay’ votes to send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Together, these funding packages are intended to fund the government and avert a partial shutdown in October.

As part of legislative branch funding, new funds will be set aside to pay House and Senate interns.

While some fiscal conservatives may be skeptical, in actuality these newly approved funds for intern salaries presents a set of unique opportunities to improve human capital on Capitol Hill.

Historically, the majority of congressional internships were unpaid positions — with over 90% of House interns going without compensation.

Many of these interns worked for academic credit or resume building, accepting the prestige and career opportunities (many staffers start as interns) of such an experience as a return on their investment of time.

Yet, given the high cost of congressional internship programs, which is in the thousands of dollars in DC, individuals from wealthy backgrounds have long dominated the field.

“One of the major reasons we sought out to make this change is to open up [the] opportunity to intern to those who don’t have the financial means to go without income, which will certainly benefit minority populations who are undoubtedly underrepresented,” Democratic Staffer Michael Zetts told Lincoln in an email. Zetts serves as the communications director for Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH).

Ryan, with bipartisan backing, authored the budget amendment which authorizes paychecks for House interns.

“Because the bulk of congressional Internships are unpaid, they are implicitly easier for individuals from privileged backgrounds to participate in and complete,” Ryan said in a press release.

Opening up the talent pipeline could help address Congress’s lack of diversity.

Source: https://jointcenter.org/research/racial-diversity-among-top-house-staff

This budget amendment also follows a Senate initiative to pay interns spearheaded by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

A total of $8.8 million for paying House interns and $5 million for paying Senate interns was appropriated in the final form of the bill. These numbers equate to $20,000 per House member office and an average of $50,000 per Senate member office for annual intern budgets.

Paid interns could offer a net benefit to member offices, expanding the opportunities for all citizens to participate in our democracy.

For more on congressional internships, see this CRS report.

This post was authored by Michael McGrady.

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