Interns in both the House and Senate are on track to get paid as work wraps up on the fiscal 2019 Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch spending package.
The Legislative Branch portion of the package has been locked, according to an aide to Rep. Tim Ryan. The final version includes $8.8 million to pay interns in the House and $5 million for intern pay in the Senate. The Senate funding is included in the accounts that lawmakers use to pay staff salaries, official travel and office expenses. In the House the funds will exist in a newly created account for each member office, according to House Appropriations Committee staff.
One of the goals behind the move towards paying interns is to level the playing field so that a broader population can participate. High rents and cost of living in Washington D.C. make taking a summer or semester of unpaid work as an intern unfeasible for many students.
“Because the bulk of Congressional Internships are unpaid, they are implicitly easier for individuals from privileged backgrounds to participate in and complete,” said Ryan.
Senate appropriators approved a proposal from Sen. Chris Van Hollen for intern pay in June, but the House version of the bill did not include intern pay provisions. The House funding came together during the conference process. An aide in Ryan’s office said securing the funding on the House side has been a big priority since the Ohio Democrat took the ranking member role on the Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee.
Senate Appropriator Christopher S. Murphy started his career on Capitol Hill as an intern for Sen. Chris Dodd.
“I came from a family of means that could help me afford to live down here for the summer, but there are plenty of incredibly capable kids who don’t have those means, especially from far off places,” said Murphy.
House funding to pay interns serving in member offices will be allocated as $20,000 per office.
“We have bipartisan support for an internship program that recognizes the fiscal realities of young people being able to take advantage of the experience of a lifetime,” said House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen.
On the Senate side, funding will be allocated so offices will receive an average $50,000 for intern compensation, with exact amounts depending on the state. For instance, Florida senators are estimated to be allocated $66,200 while Rhode Island senators are estimated to be allocated $46,000.
“Fair wages for a fair day’s work is the cornerstone of the American Dream. I’ve always fought for that, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure that any student interested in public service has the opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill,” Ryan said in a statement.
“I’d like to thank Tim Ryan for leading the fight to pay House interns and Chairman [Rodney] Frelinghuysen for agreeing to add dedicated funding for this to the conference agreement,” top Democratic appropriator Nita M. Lowey said. “Interns should be reflective of the country we serve and we should help a more diverse range of young people follow their dreams and begin a career in public service.”
The conference committee for the spending package met Wednesday, but lawmakers and staff have been working to reconcile the House and Senate bills for weeks. Negotiations continue on other portions of the bill.