WASHINGTON – More than 100 lawmakers, led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called for higher wages for congressional staffers in order to better retain employees working for members of Congress
In a letter sent Monday, the lawmakers asked the House Appropriations Committee to increase congressional office budgets by 21% to be used to ramp up staff salaries.
"For years, pay and benefits for the staff of Member offices, leadership offices, and committees have fallen farther and farther behind what is offered in the private sector. At the same time, the cost of living here in our nation’s capital has risen substantially, placing opportunities such as homeownership, rental housing, and childcare out of reach for many," the lawmakers penned to Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
They continued, "These realities have hamstrung the House in our ability to recruit and retain the talented and diverse workforce we need to serve the diversity and needs of the American people in the best way possible."
Per the lawmakers' letter, House staff salaries were cut last year by 20.7% from the Congressional Budget Office's 10-year baseline projection, and the average staff member leaves employment on Capitol Hill after three years.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the median salary for a staffing position such as a legislative assistant was $56,250 in 2020.
“It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns and underpaid, overworked staff just because some conservatives want to make a statement about 'fiscal responsibility,'" said Ocasio-Cortez in a statement. “The lack of diversity on the Hill can be traced directly to our failure to pay staff a living wage."
The call for higher staff salaries comes amid a traumatizing and stressful year working for the legislative branch.
Morale among those on Capitol Hill has been exceedingly low, and continued to be exacerbated, over the last year as they have had to face the COVID-19 pandemic that spread amongst the complex, two deadly attacks on their place of work within months of each other, and ramped-up rhetoric.
One Democratic congressional staffer had asked USA TODAY in April: "How much worse does it get?"
Rep. Rho Khanna, D-Calif., said in a statement that “A career in public service shouldn’t translate to unsustainable, unlivable low-wages. If we want to continue to recruit the best and the brightest to inspire change in the halls of Congress, we need to pay them a living salary."
The lawmakers' letter follows earlier concern by some House leaders, who raised alarms in April that the pay discrepancies made it difficult to retain talent and staff.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., also wrote to DeLauro to boost office budgets by 20%.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AOC, lawmakers push for increase in congressional staffer pay