Legislation & policy analysis

New appropriations package strengthens Congress — if members use the funds

This week, President Biden signed into law H.R. 2471, a $1.5 trillion spending package that will fund the government and its operations for fiscal year (FY) 2022. Issue One applauds members of Congress for coming together to invest in core government programs and functions, including provisions that will strengthen and protect our democracy. Now, Congress must use these funds to boost its ability to address large-scale challenges — and that starts with fairly compensating all congressional staff.

As a legislative and policy making institution, Congress has long lacked the resources needed to adequately serve the American people. The FY22 appropriations package takes significant steps toward filling that gap, including implementing a number of changes recommended by Issue One. Most significantly, the new budget includes a $134 million, or 21%, increase to Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) — the budget that members of the House of Representatives use to hire and pay staff, purchase equipment, and serve constituents. This increase will restore the MRA to its FY2010 level.

Other significant provisions in the omnibus package provide crucial resources to pay interns on Capitol Hill — who represent the pipeline of talent to upper-level legislative positions — as well as in the White House and State Department. This is the first time in history that all three institutions have set funding to compensate their interns.

Members of Congress deserve credit for investing in the institution, but appropriating the money isn’t enough. Members must actually use these funds to support their staff and run their offices, rather than using these funds to virtue signal to their constituents. That means using the funds set aside for interns and not leaving MRA dollars on the table.

Issue One calls on members to use these funds to boost salaries for junior staff — who represent the majority of Congress’ workforce and legislative capacity. In a January 2022 report, Issue One found that 70% of D.C.-based staff assistants — and 1 in 8 staffers overall — were paid less than a living wage in 2020. That’s nearly 1,200 staffers who made less than what MIT describes as a “minimum subsistence wage,” and who have to take on side gigs or relied on financial support from family members to pay their bills.

The FY22 appropriations package represents a meaningful step toward a Congress that is effective, resilient, and representative. Now, members must use these funds to uphold their responsibilities to the American people. That work starts with properly and fairly compensating all congressional staff.