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Guidance for paying House interns adopted, as application deadlines fly by

House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., noted that she began her congressional career as an intern. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., noted that she began her congressional career as an intern. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House offices now have guidance, however brief, on how to implement paid internships in their offices with the inaugural funding provided specifically for that purpose.

The House Administration Committee approved a resolution Tuesday afternoon by voice vote that outlines “interim regulations governing House paid internships.” 

A spending bill signed into law in in September included $8.8 million to pay interns in the House. Each office was allocated $20,000 in a newly created account, separate from the Members’ Representational Allowance funds.

The resolution adds a new classification of employee to the “Members’ Congressional Handbook” and inserts language to clarify that interns in the paid internship program “are subject to the same federal laws and regulations, House Rules, House regulations, and Ethics regulations as interns who may be paid with MRA funds.”

The committee resolution does not need approval from the full House and the changes will be adopted to the handbook immediately.

Interns paid out of this fund must work in the Washington office, and interns in district offices are not eligible. They also do not count against the members’ employee staff ceiling.

“One recommendation I hope this committee can revisit in the future, since these are interim regulations, is the requirement that the interns being paid out of these accounts must work in Washington D.C.,” said ranking member Rodney Davis.

He was joined by California Democrat Susan Davis, who pointed out that cost of living in some members districts is also prohibitively expensive for district office interns. She would also like district interns to be eligible in the future.

Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren told the panel that she started her career on Capitol Hill as an intern with a stipend to help pay her way.

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.

The resolution directs the Chief Administrative Officer to update offices monthly on the balance of their allotment of funds and submit a semiannual report to the House Administration panel on the total usage of the funding.

Pay Our Interns, a a group that advocates more paid internships, thinks there is room for improvement in the guidance approved Tuesday.

“The House Administration Committee took months to release guidelines that are sparse and do not provide adequate guidance to offices on how to make their offices more diverse and equitable,” said Pay Our Interns co-founder Carlos Vera.

The group is urging congressional offices to push back deadlines for summer internships to April 1, giving applicants more time to apply with more certainty that they may be paid.

“While it is encouraging to see that all offices will finally have access to the internship funds, we are in the midst of the summer 2019 application cycle and many office deadlines are fast approaching,” said Pay Our Inters other co-founder, Guillermo Creamer. “This means that the funding will not be used for its intended purpose, giving more people of color and people from lower socioeconomic statuses the opportunity to intern on the Hill. Many likely did not apply to internships since most offices were still advertising their internships as unpaid.”

The same spending measure that funded House interns also included money for the Senate. In that chamber, funding is allocated so offices 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.

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