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Former AOC Staffer Left Position Because He ‘Couldn’t Afford the Job’

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  • A former AOC staffer said he left his position earlier this year because of low pay among Congressional staffers.
  • In a Monday letter, the New York lawmaker called for a budget increase in order to boost staff salaries.
  • The letter comes two weeks after an Insider report detailing the low pay among many Capitol Hill staffers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A former senior advisor to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said he left his position on Capitol Hill earlier this year, in large part, because of low pay among Congressional staffers.

“She’s a great boss and I adored my colleagues,” Dan Riffle, former senior counsel and policy adviser for the influential New York lawmaker said in a Monday tweet. “But with two kids in daycare I just couldn’t afford the job.”

Riffle’s tweet was in response to a Monday letter, led by Ocasio-Cortez, calling for a budget increase among House offices in order to boost staff salaries.

 

More than 100 House members signed the letter addressed to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations. In it, lawmakers call for a 21% increase in order to account for a “much-needed” increase in staff pay and benefits. 

The letter said an increase would be an “important first step” in recruiting and retaining a “diverse and talented workforce.”

The letter comes two weeks after a report by Insider’s Kayla Epstein detailed the shockingly low pay among many Capitol Hill staffers and the lengths some go to in order to live in Washington, DC, one of the nation’s most expensive cities, while still fulfilling their dreams of public service. 

Junior level staffers can start out in the low $20,000s to $30,000s in a city where the average one-bedroom apartment costs more than $2,000 a month. Some resort to working second jobs on top of the demanding jobs for Congress.

Congressional staff jobs are notorious in the industry for their low wages, but according to Riffle, it’s not just the private sector that offers more competitive pay.

“It’s not just that the Hill pays less than K street,” Riffle said, referring to the street known as a hub for lobbyists and advocacy groups. “It’s less than non-profit or local gov’t.” 

In a followup tweet, Riffle said he had taken a new job in local government.  

Riffle did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

His former boss, Ocasio-Cortez, has been a vocal proponent of livable wages among workers, supporting a $15 minimum wage and frequently calling out corporations she believes don’t offer financial security or opportunity for their employees.

The young lawmaker has also been outspoken about the issue of staff pay since she took office in January 2019. Insider previously reported that salaries in her office start at $52,000, almost double what some offices pay their most junior staffers.

“She pays junior staff more than most other offices, and senior staff less than most, which was the right thing to do,” Riffle said in a followup tweet

Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

Each Congressional office is given the same amount of funding for staff salaries. It’s up to each lawmaker to decide how many staffers he or she will hire and how to divide up pay. 

But as Congressional staffers wrap a historically difficult year that saw a pandemic, an insurrection, and economic downturn, higher wages could be on the horizon.

In a previous statement to Insider, Appropriations Chair DeLauro said, “A workforce that reflects America’s diversity is essential to a well-functioning Legislative Branch. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that Congressional staff compensation allows the House to recruit and retain a talented and diverse staff to help us carry out our important work.”

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