Claudia Pagon Marchena, like so many Hill staffers, moonlighted at a Washington, D.C., eatery to pay her rent until she took a job with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She celebrated her last day at her coffee shop job that same week.
That’s because Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run.
For Pagon Marchena, 22, the pay bump meant an end to a grueling, seven-day-a-week work schedule that was wearing down her resolve to stay in Washington, where rents average more than $2,000 a month.
“It was unsustainable,” she said. “I needed an office that was going to pay me a fair wage.”
The policy, which has not been previously reported, is the latest sign that Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats intend to buck a long-established trend of ostentatious austerity in congressional offices. Government watchdog groups say deep cuts to office and committee budgets have contributed to a lack of diversity in Hill offices, high turnover and congressional brain drain.
Ocasio-Cortez is trying to force the conversation. She made national headlines in December by announcing that all interns in her office would make $15 an hour plus benefits — a rarity for Capitol Hill offices in which interns are often unpaid. She has also highlighted the high number of Hill staff members who work side jobs to make up for median salaries as low as $35,000 for staff assistants, the lowest paid positions in congressional offices, according to a Legistorm analysis last year.
“We think that if a person is working, they should make enough to live,” said Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director.
I am counting down the days until she can run for President.