Senators move to make State Department internships paid

  • Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott just introduced a bill to make State Department internships paid.
  • The bill would also help cover transportation and housing costs for State Department interns.
  • It’s aimed at increasing diversity in the intern ranks and part of a larger paid internship movement.
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Unpaid internships have come under renewed scrutiny in recent days, as discourse has swirled online over their potential for exploitation and inequity. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even weighed in with a tweet on Monday, writing: “Pay your interns! It’ll improve your operation and make it more diverse and just.”

Now, Sens. Cory Booker and Tim Scott are taking it one step further, introducing a bipartisan bill to make all State Department internships fully paid. Booker has already been an advocate for paid internships.

In a press release, the duo cites declines in the number of women and Black workers at the State Department.

The bill would make all State Department internships pay the jurisdiction’s minimum wage. It would also provide housing for students who would live outside the US for their internships, as well as for students who work more than 50 miles away from their permanent addresses. In addition, travel for getting to and from those locations would be covered and targeted outreach to minority-serving institutions would be mandated.

“For far too long, the State Department has failed to recruit low-income and students of color within their internship program largely due to it being unpaid,” Booker said in a press release. “Having a diplomatic corps that represents the diverse makeup of the United States will increase the institutional knowledge and capacity of the State Department and improve our image abroad.”

It’s similar to bipartisan legislation recently reintroduced by Rep. Joaquin Castro.  

“This commonsense legislation will make internships at the State Department fairer, more rewarding, and more open to all, and is a crucial part of my focus on ensuring American diplomats reflect the diversity of the American people,” Castro said in a press release.  

There’s a larger movement to make internships paid

Carlos Mark Vera is the executive director of Pay Our Interns, a group that advocates for paid internships and supports Castro’s legislation. Since its founding in 2016, Pay Our Interns has been changing the conversation around getting interns paid. It was previously successful in getting Congress to allocate $31 million to intern compensation — and now it’s chipping away at the State Department with this bill.

“This is, in my opinion, the golden standard,” Vera told Insider. He said a highlight is how it would make pay the minimum wage rather than a stipend, which sometimes are not enough to live on. 

The bill would transition all unpaid internships to paid ones in three years, and has built-in reporting guidelines, for instance on whether interns are going to public or private schools, what their home state is, and other transparency measures. 

The debate over unpaid internships and their potential for exploitation is not a new one. Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds that students of color are underrepresented in paid internships. 

“This is a big deal for us because it could serve as a model for all other federal agencies, which is our goal,” Vera said.

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