Hoyer, Jeffries and Lofgren call for study of expanded staff benefits

Options include fertility coverage and loan forgiveness

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries pitched a 20 percent increase to Members Representational Allowances in a letter to appropriators in late April. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries pitched a 20 percent increase to Members Representational Allowances in a letter to appropriators in late April. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 20, 2021 at 1:29pm

House Democratic leaders are again trying to explore ways to attract and retain a diverse congressional staff, which have notoriously low pay and high turnover, by urging a study comparing House employee benefits with those available in the private sector, the Senate and federal agencies.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York and House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren of California wrote a letter to the Chief Administrative Office of the House on Thursday requesting the study and examining how changing certain benefits may affect recruitment, retention and diversity of House staff.

“It is our hope that such a study will help inform efforts to include expanded benefits in the Legislative Branch appropriations bill for the next fiscal year,” the three lawmakers wrote. “We will continue to advocate for House staff to receive more competitive pay and benefits so that the House can recruit and retain the best and most diverse talent to serve the American people.”

The requested study would focus on key benefits that lawmakers think could change the calculus for some existing or potential staffers.

They asked Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor to direct special attention to potential reimbursement for adoption or fertility treatment not covered by insurance, first-time homebuyer assistance, offering a 529 college savings plans and providing child care subsidies for staffers who don’t use the House day care facilities.

They’re also interested in the impact of making House employees eligible for the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness program and providing coverage for private student loans.

“To recruit, retain, and promote an effective, efficient, and a diverse workforce, we need to be able to compete with the private sector and the federal agencies. I look forward to reviewing the Chief Administrative Officer’s response to our correspondence,” said Lofgren.

The letter follows testimony from Hoyer and Jeffries at the House Modernization of Congress Committee, where they both expressed interest in improving both pay and benefits for staff in Washington and district offices, to retain experienced aides and recruit new staff who may balk at the meager pay in Congress. The same panel is examining the challenges and missteps the House faces in hiring staff that more closely reflect the racial, gender and other demographic categories of the nation it serves.

Hoyer and Jeffries also pitched a 20 percent increase to Members Representational Allowances in a letter to appropriators in late April.

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of more than 30 organizations came together to urge House appropriators to increase Legislative Branch funding to allow for staff pay to be increased.

“We urge the House of Representatives to restore funding levels for Members Representational Allowances (MRA) and House committees to their FY 2010 levels, as adjusted for inflation. This would help address high turnover among congressional staff by addressing the twin issues of low pay and an unsustainable workload,” wrote Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, Zach Graves of the Lincoln Network and others on Monday.

While Hoyer, Jeffries and Lofgren wrote that they hope to use the information from the study to include expanded benefits in the next Legislative Branch appropriations bill, that is a tight timeline for the CAO. Fiscal 2022 spending bills are expected to begin moving through House Appropriations subcommittees in the next two months. If the study takes more than a few weeks, any significant changes to House employee benefits based on the CAO study would be more likely in the fiscal 2023 cycle.