You may be buried in student loans. But your tax dollars are still paying off student loans for congressional staffers.
Congress created this benefit more than 10 years ago to help recruit and retain skilled workers in their offices. But government watchdog groups like the Citizens against Government Waste say it is a costly perk that is not needed to attract talent to Capitol Hill.
A U.S. Senate staffer can get up to $6,000 a year, while U.S. House staffers can receive up $10,000 a year to pay down their debts. Over the past year, Congressional staffers received around $20-million dollars to repay their loans.
Select staffers in other federal agencies also received this benefit. Federal records from 2012 show that costs taxpayers around $70 million.
College students in the Bay Area say it doesn't seem fair.
"So I have to work overtime for me to pay off my debt and his debt? That's ridiculous," offered Ahmed Yousef. "So why is it fair for them, while I work hard to pay off my debt, when they don't have to worry about that?"
"I think the thinking behind that is you want to encourage staffers to get an education and learn, but the problem is we can't afford it," said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
The Florida Republican says it's time to roll back or cut out the federal college loan repayment program.
Those who support the program say it pays off with a better workforce, and it provides a benefit that draws a commitment from recipients to their jobs.
"We have to ask ourselves: Do we want the best employees going to work in private sector as K Street lobbyists, or do we want them to work on Capitol Hill?" said Bradford Fitch with the Congressional Management Foundation.
This is a discretionary benefit. A senate staffer can receive up to $40,000 total. House staffers can receive up to $60,000.
We sent the following request to our representatives:
On Monday, February 10, we are planning a report on the discretionary benefits Congressional staffers (and some federal workers) receive through the student loan repayment program.
We are sending this request to both of our U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives serving the Tampa Bay region.
Senator Rubio has already provided us with his position on this discretionary benefit (he expressed concern about the cost to taxpayers). Here are our follow-up questions:
Does Sen. Rubio offer this benefit to members of his staff? If so, how many receive it, and what was the annual cost of those benefits that recipients in your office received in 2013 (or 2012 if you do not yet have data for 2013)?
Responses received thus far:
From Senator Marco Rubio:
"Our office is automatically given $5549 per month to be used for the Student Loan Repayment program, but we regularly return $1500 to $2500 of that each month. The amount given to each office is determined by a formula based on state size.
From Senator Bill Nelson:
A spokesman indicated a small number are receiving benefits, but is currently checking stats.
From U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross:
"No one on the congressman's staff receives loan repayment."
From U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis:
"Currently, we have one employee who is participating in the student loan repayment program."
From U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan:
"We currently have one individual participating in the federal tuition assistance program."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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