Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attacks Congress over staff salaries and unpaid internships

Sarah Harvard

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has admonished Congress for failing to pay interns and their congressional staffers an decent wage.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez—a democratic socialist hailing from New York—tweeted that she visited a dive bar in Washington DC where she met with several bartenders, managers, and servers who were currently working for House or Senate offices, indicating that, as Capitol Hill staffers, they shouldn't’t have to work a side gig to make ends meet.

“This is a disgrace,” she tweeted. “Congress of ALL places should raise [Members' Representational Allowances] so we can pay staff an actual DC living wage.”

The 29-year-old lawmaker, who became the youngest women elected into Congress last month, said it was “unjust” for her fellow lawmakers to get paid a livable wage while depending on the aid of unpaid interns and overworked underpaid staffers. She slammed Republican lawmakers for their efforts to underpay their congressional staffers as a ploy to boast about “financial responsibility.”

“It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about ‘fiscal responsibility,'” Ms Ocasio-Cortez added.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez is calling on Congress to increase the Members’ Representational Allowance for each member of the legislative branch.

Fortunately, as NBC News noted, the young lawmaker and freshman congresspeople will have fresh resources to pay their interns. In September, Congress passed a small spending package that provides additional funding for congressional members to encourage them to pay interns.

The 2019 spending package includes $8.8 million for paid internships in the House, offering up to $20,000 annually for each member of the lower chamber to pay their interns. As for the Senate, the spending bill allocates $5 million for paid internships.

The new funds are already available to members of the Legislative Branch, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Other legislators—like Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont—seem to stand behind Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s plea to pay interns.

“A congressional internship offers an entrance to a career in public service, but many dedicated, young adults do not have the means to spend a summer working for free in Washington or in our home districts,” Mr Leahy, who serves as a ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in September. “By paying interns for their work, we open the door to a wider and more diverse pool of applicants looking to serve their country.”

Pay Our Interns— a bipartisan nonprofit organisation advocating for more paid internships in the government, non-profit and for-profit sectors—released a report in 2017 revealing that only 8 per cent of Republicans and 3.6 per cent of Democratic congressional members paid their interns. The organisation also discovered that Senators either paid their interns, offered stipends, or had promised to start offering payment.