Heard on the Hill

Van Hollen Vouching For All Congressional Interns to Get Paid

Maryland Democrat says it will increase diversity among staffers

Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen poses with his 2017 summer interns. (Courtesy Van Hollen’s office)

Interns, is it time to guarantee that you get paid? Sen. Chris Van Hollen thinks so.

The Maryland Democrat authored a provision to expand paid internships as part of the text of the Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

“I think we should have a system that makes sure that every student who wants to intern on Capitol Hill and has qualifications can do so,” Van Hollen said. “I think in offices where there are no paid internships, it limits the pool of applicants to people who can afford to spend the summer without any income.”

As it currently stands, congressional offices can work their budgets to pay their interns, but the majority do not, according to Pay Our Interns, a campaign that advocates more paid internships, specifically for millennials.

Former House intern Carlos Vera leads the advocacy group, which issued a report showing that less than 50 percent of Senate offices pay their interns and less than 10 percent of House offices do, NBC Washington reported.

For the report, Pay Our Interns surveyed congressional offices and reviewed congressional websites.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said at the beginning of this Congress that addressing staff diversity was a priority. In March, Senate Democrats adopted rules that formally encourage offices to consider at least one minority candidate when interviewing for an open position.

[Senate Democrats Adopt Staff Diversity Rules]

Van Hollen said family income shouldn’t limit potential interns. “When you open the doors more widely, you’re going to get a more diverse pool of candidates,” he said.

The median rent in June 2017 for a one bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., was $1,425, according to Trulia. And that’s just for a place to stay. Then the intern has to factor in getting to and from work, and the cost of living in the city — often more than in their home district.

It’s often hard to find a Capitol Hill job without an internship. Offices look for people with hands-on experience and internships are the best way to get that.

“It’s important to point out that these internships are often the first step [to] getting a full time job on Capitol Hill,” Van Hollen said. “If you limit the internship applicant pool, then you’re also shutting the doors to opportunities down the road.”

[Staffer Guide: Interning Do’s and Don’ts]

If a student has “the ability and the desire” to intern on Capitol Hill, the senator said, Congress should help.

He added that even a stipend would enlarge the pool of interns.

Van Hollen’s provision is included in the fiscal 2018 appropriations bill, which will be voted on in December after Congress last week approved a three-month continuing resolution. He said he has seen “growing support” for paying interns.

“I talked to members on the Appropriations Committee. It was agreed to on a bipartisan basis. I think there’s a growing recognition that this is an issue,” he said.

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