Members of Congress, many of whom have net worths of at least $1 million, are using taxpayer dollars to pay for their lodging and meals in the nation’s capital, enabled by a measure passed by the previous House majority, according to a report.
The measure to establish an optional $34,000 annual subsidy for lawmakers to cover their rent and meal costs in Washington, D.C., was passed in January as an internal rule change in the House.
More than 200 lawmakers, which include 113 Democrats and 104 Republicans, used $1.4 million of taxpayer money in the first six months of 2023 through the taxpayer-sponsored program, according to The Washington Free Beacon’s analysis of House disbursement records.
House members make a $174,000 annual salary, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Zoe Bluffstone, a spokesperson for the Congressional Progressive Staff Association, said the House should have focused instead on the poor salaries of their staffers.
“Too many congressional staffers live paycheck to paycheck, take on debt, or work second jobs in order to survive due to persistently low wages on the Hill,” Bluffstone told The New York Times. “It’s already not sustainable for so many, but if more of the office budget gets siphoned away, we could see cuts in staff pay and even greater increases in turnover, which hurts the institution of Congress as a whole.”
House members are given $258 per day for spending on lodging and $79 per day for food when the lower chamber is in session or if their committees have an official meeting. The members do not have to provide receipts, as they simply must certify the “eligible expenses,” according to the Members’ Congressional Handbook.
Beneficiaries of the program include at least 17 millionaires. Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) used the funds despite her up to $1.8 million net worth, as did House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA), whose net worth sits around $13.5 million, as reported by The Washington Free Beacon.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) reportedly spent about $8,700 from the program. Some of the other “Squad” members have also taken advantage of the funds. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) received $14,000, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) received $6,800, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) received $6,200.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) received the largest sum of taxpayer money from the program. This included nearly $17,000 for lodging and an additional $6,200 for meals from January through May of 2023.
“I’ve complied with the law, and my cooking is often with discount BOGO products. I try to do the best in the kitchen from the BOGO life,” Gaetz told The Washington Free Beacon. “During my time in Congress, I’ve returned over $860,000 to taxpayers from the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA).”
The subsidy proposal received criticism from both sides of the political spectrum when it was passed.
“You can have a good public policy debate on whether congressmen should be paid more in order to attract a better bunch, and you could have a reasonable debate on inflation adjustments, but it really ought to be done in public,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) told The New York Times.
“That’s my biggest beef, that it was a clandestine secret,” Brooks claimed.