Social media's favorite member of Congress has a new plan to make Washington D.C. better — all by improving the lives of her staffers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is paying her staff $52,000 a year, and has called for changes to make sure that everyone working in Congress makes a living wage.
"Leadership starts with our choices. That’s why I decided that no one on my staff will make less than $52k/year," Ocasio-Cortez posted to Twitter with a link to an article on the website Roll Call on the pay she's offering. "It’s likely one of the highest entry-level salaries on the Hill. We pinch pennies elsewhere, but it’s worth every dime to pay a living wage," she wrote.
Ocasio-Cortez went on to explain that the congressional budgets for staff remains below 2010 levels, which results in staffers — "people helping to run the country" — getting paid $30,000 a year. The MIT's living wage calculator lists $36,944 as the required salary necessary for one adult to survive in D.C. given living costs there. A vast majority of pay goes to housing costs, about $18,000 per year for a single adult.
The representative from New York, in follow-up tweets, pointed out that low pay in these positions could make other D.C.-based jobs seem more attractive, hurting the system:
It’s pretty sad that people think low Congressional staff pay is a good thing. Low pay a big reason why money in politics is a problem - you can make a lot more money becoming a lobbyist & setting up a relationship w/ one, since the actual job doesn’t pay enough. Domino effect.
This is not the first time that Ocasio-Cortez has made waves discussing the pay of people in her office. In December, before taking office, she hinted at her disbelief that some staffers have second jobs in the service industry to make ends meet.
She posted that she was out to eat and talked to the staff. "SEVERAL bartenders, managers, & servers *currently worked in Senate + House offices.* This is a disgrace," Ocasio-Cortez wrote. "Congress of ALL places should raise MRAs so we can pay staff an actual DC living wage."
"It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about 'fiscal responsibility,'" she continued. "If that’s the case, they can cut down on staff to pay them well."
Her office then announced that all her interns would be making $15 per hour plus benefits in an attempt to open up the jobs to young people of all economic backgrounds.
She also criticized on Twitter her colleagues who don't pay the interns. "Gotta love the rich irony of Congressmen asking 'How are you going to pay for it?' suddenly grow awfully quiet when called out on their expectation that part-time workers magically invent money to work for free," she posted.
Ocasio-Cortez and all other members of the House receive a set Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) each year to pay their staff and set up their offices. In 2018, that amount was about $1,368,520, according to the Congressional Research Service; it varies a bit depending on how far a representative's district is from D.C. and how much office space costs there.