Staffers working for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be paid a minimum of $52,000 per year, a major shift from the archaic congressional tradition of paying staff well below a living wage. The announcement comes two months after the New York congresswoman made headlines when she said she would pay congressional interns $15 per hour and offer them benefits — another rarity, since these positions have often been unpaid.
According to a 2018 analysis by the independent congressional research firm LegiStorm, the median salary for some entry-level staff roles in Congress typically range from $32,000 to $36,000. In a place like Washington, D.C. — one of the most expensive cities in the country where rent averages $2,100 per month — that means congressional staffers have traditionally found themselves moonlighting as food industry workers or taking other jobs to make ends meet.
But Ocasio-Cortez, who knows the struggle of juggling multiple gigs all too well, says that it was important to lead by example. "Leadership starts with our choices. That’s why I decided that no one on my staff will make less than $52k/year. 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 tweeted. The Members’ Representational Allowances for the 2019 fiscal year — i.e. the operational budget given to members of Congress every session for managing their offices in D.C. and their respective districts — is $574 million, still lower than the high of $660 million in 2010.
To afford paying staffers a minimum of $52,000, Ocasio-Cortez's office has a salary cap of $80,000 — well below the median pay for positions such as chief of staff, which usually receive a salary of $154,000. And it seems like the congresswoman's team is willing to take the pay cuts in order to offer lower-level staff a living wage. Ocasio-Cortez's team will be comprised by 18 people — the limit for congressional offices— and her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti has previously said there are no volunteers in the office. Of course, this move has displeased some of Ocasio-Cortez's critics. Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth said on Sunday said the trade-off was an example of "communism and socialism."
Ocasio-Cortez fired back on Twitter, saying: "The GOP is so disconnected from the basic idea that people should be paid enough to live that Fox actually thinks me paying a living wage in my office is 'communism.' So the next time GOP screams 'socialist,' know that’s their go-to attack for any common-sense, humane policy."