Interning on Capitol Hill has its benefits, but until very recently, getting paid wasn’t necessarily one of them. On Thursday, the House passed a bill allocating almost $14 million for White House interns: a provision of $8.8 million for those interning in the House and $5 million for Senate interns.
The legislation is a major victory. Previous investigations from Mic revealed that roughly 90% of House members and more than half of Senate members don’t pay their interns. White House internship programs promise prestige and opportunity for young people entering the workforce — and some serious resume-building clout — but they rarely mention the financial strain they impart on those lucky enough to get the gig.
Even more, requiring interns to work for free inherently reduces diversity, as many can’t afford to put in so many unpaid hours. As Rachel Zuckerman said on Twitter, the new funds will “lay the foundation for a more diverse, inclusive democracy.”
Rules around unpaid internships are complicated and often depend on the type of work, where the jobs are held and how they are credited. While some may provide valuable learning opportunities and growth experiences, interns on the Hill have been known to take second jobs, walk miles to work to avoid metro fees and battle food insecurity in order to keep their positions. On its Twitter account, the nonprofit Pay Our Interns, an organization that advocates for more paid opportunities for young people, often highlights the hoops interns have to go through in order to keep afloat.
Congressional interns were once paid for their work: Between 1973 and 1994, under the Lyndon B. Johnson Congressional Intern Program, interns were paid for two-month programs.
As a next step, Pay Our Interns said it will work to help young people in underrepresented communities — those who previously faced the greatest obstacles to obtain these positions — to land internships on Capitol Hill.
President Donald Trump is anticipated to sign off on the legislation. “President Trump looks forward to signing this legislation and continuing to work with Congress to enact Fiscal Year 2019 funding for the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies, while continuing to show fiscal restraint,” the White House said in a press statement published Wednesday.
Correction: Sept. 14, 2018
An earlier version of this story misstated when interns were last paid in Congress. Congressional interns were paid from 1973 to 1994 under Lyndon B. Johnson’s Congressional Intern Program.