Members Get a Bigger Allowance

Posted January 15, 2009 at 2:31pm

In an apparent reaction to the economic crisis facing the country, the House has decided to increase the allowances of Members of Congress so they can spend more money representing their constituents.

According to several Congressional sources, the House Administration Committee has alerted Members that their office accounts will increase by an average of $90,000 this year, an overall increase of about $40 million and significantly more that the increases of recent years.

Every year, each House Member is provided a Member Representational Allowance, which pays for staff salaries, mailing costs, office supplies and the other miscellaneous costs of running a Congressional office. The amount allotted to each Member varies based on how far they have to travel to and from their district and other factors, but in 2008, the allowances ranged from $1.3 million to $1.6 million for each office, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In recent years, the MRAs have increased each year by about $25,000-$30,000 per office, several sources said, making this year’s increase remarkable.

“As a result of the current economic crisis, more pressure than ever is being placed on Member’s district offices to ensure that they have the necessary resources as they work to address expanded constituent needs,” Kyle Anderson, spokesman for the House Administration Committee Democrats, said in an e-mail to Roll Call. “Additionally, unprecedented increases in travel expenses, district office utilities and other related operational expenses must be incorporated into Member’s Representational Allowances.

“Failure to address these rising expenses could result in resources having to be diverted from key areas such as constituent service and Member outreach. The increase in the MRA will allow Member’s offices to continue to effectively serve their constituents during this difficult period.”

One House Republican chief of staff said that in his four years in the job “we’ve certainly never had a bump that big … and it was not what I was expecting. We probably won’t use it all.”

The increases are still only projected numbers, Anderson said, based on anticipated appropriations for 2009 and 2010. The Appropriations Committee has traditionally approved a little less than the full amount the House Administration Committee has suggested, so the final number may be slightly lower, several staff members said.

And some Members make a practice of spending less than they are given each year. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) made a pledge to hand back money every year, and spokeswoman Anne Lupardus Hanson said that with the $82,000 he returned at the end of 2008, Kind has now given back more than $1 million to the U.S. Treasury in his six terms.