The University of Delaware Review: Interns Finally Getting Paid to Play

Sep 18, 2018
In The News

For years, students have had to skip meals, wait tables and make major financial sacrifices to serve as an intern on a congressional staff.

Due to recent developments, those things will not be as necessary — interns of the House of Representatives and the Senate are about to get paid.

The “minibus” appropriations bill, H.R. 5895, which is also known as the “Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019”, among many things, allocates funds specifically for the purpose of paying interns.

For many college students, like myself, who are considering a career in public service on Capitol Hill, congressional internships are coveted opportunities that give students more knowledge about, and a better chance of, landing jobs on a congressional staff after college.

All congressional staffs offer internships in their Washington D.C. offices and in their district or state offices.

While some offices do currently offer pay, a June 2017 study by Pay Our Interns, a nonprofit, found that a large number of Senate offices and a vast majority of House offices do not offer payment.

For reference, out of the congressional delegation from Delaware, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) offers a wage for his summer interns, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) offers a stipend. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) does not offer any payment.

Unless the intern lived around the D.C. area, they often had to pay for housing in D.C., even if just for a few months. Pay Our Interns estimates the cost of interning in D.C. to be approximately $6,000 for a single internship session, which usually lasts around three months.

The system, in many cases, excluded those from less-than-affluent backgrounds from getting congressional internships, as they simply could not afford them. Such exclusions made the pool of congressional interns less representative of the constituents that the members of the House and Senate represent.

If someone is unable to get an internship (or two) during college, they are at a severe disadvantage when it comes time to applying for jobs once they graduate.

The bill is now on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk, as it passed both chambers of Congress this week. Trump is expected to sign it soon, as this fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

The bill allocates $8.8 million to the House of Representatives and $5 million to the Senate to pay interns. Each House office will be given $20,000, and each Senate office will be given an average of $50,000 (each Senator will be given a different amount based on their state’s size).

This appropriation of funds certainly changes the game for many college-aged politicos, giving them that invaluable congressional experience. That is something that Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, pointed out.

“By leveling the playing field, we can attract a diverse range of interns with a deep love of country who may have had difficulty affording this opportunity in the past,” Fortenberry said.

The original Senate bill included the pay for interns, which was advocated for by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), while the original House bill did not. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, pushed for intern pay to be included when that time came.

“By providing this dedicated funding to help House offices pay their interns, we are moving to level the playing field and provide opportunities for young Americans who may not otherwise have the financial means necessary to dedicate a full semester or summer to an unpaid internship,” Ryan said in a press release.

It is very promising to see such bipartisan agreement on this subject, shown by the large majorities that passed this bill in both houses of Congress. The bill passed the Senate 92-5 and the House 377-20.

This initiative, once the bill is signed by President Trump, will have to be renewed each year, but it is clear that this new initiative will make congressional offices much more diverse and give more college students the chance to follow their dreams.


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