More than 100 lawmakers, including congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have called for an increase to House budgets after congressional staffers have quit due to low wages.
In a letter sent on Monday, the lawmakers asked the House Appropriations Committee to increase congressional budgets by 21 per cent in an effort to improve the pay for staff members.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez was included in the call to increase wages after one of her staff members left his position earlier this year due to the pay.
“She’s a great boss and I adored my colleagues. But with two kids in daycare I just couldn’t afford the job,” said Dan Riffle, former senior counsel and policy adviser for Ms Ocasio-Cortez, in a Monday tweet.
The letter to the House Appropriations Committee referenced the hardships staffers face will living in the expensive capital on low wages.
“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 letter read, which was penned to Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat.
“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,” it continued.
The letter noted that House staff salaries were cut last year by 20.7 per cent from the Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year baseline projection. Additionally, the average staff member leaves their position on Capitol Hill after three years.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the average salary for a legislative assistant in Congress was 54,659 in 2020. But those positions were paid as little as $43,811 in 2020.
The lowest-paid job within Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service, was a legislative correspondent with an average salary of $49,221 in 2020. But some people were paid as little as $37,327.
“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,’” Ms Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “The lack of diversity on the Hill can be traced directly to our failure to pay staff a living wage.”
Mr Rifle, who left his position with the congresswoman earlier this year, has since taken a job in local government, which he said pays more on average than a position in Congress.
“It’s not just that the Hill pays less than K street. It’s less than non-profit or local gov’t,” he wrote.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez has been a vocal proponent of increased wages across the US by pushing for the minimum wage to increase to $15. The congresswoman has also promoted increased wages within Congress by vowing in 2019 to pay all staff members a minimum of $52,000 per year.
“She pays junior staff more than most other offices, and senior staff less than most, which was the right thing to do,” Mr Riffle said in a followup tweet.
Each congressional office is given the same budget, leaving it up to the individual congressperson to decide how many people to hire to staff the office and how much to pay each person.