WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - At a time when thousands of Americans struggle to pay off their student loan debts, wait until you see what our partners at USA Today uncovered: an extraordinary government perk and you, the taxpayers, are footing the bill!
"We've had comprehensive reform of immigration moving through, comprehensive reform for healthcare. Where's the comprehensive reform for education?" said James Lewis, a 25-year-old who works at a D.C. non-profit.
The high cost of education has left Lewis saddled with debt. Twenty-four thousand dollars worth of student loans. He works Monday through Friday at a non-profit, but to make ends meet, he's taken on a second job.
"I work on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday mornings in Arlington, waiting tables. It's good money, it's a great place to work," he said. "I'd like to have my weekends, but instead, I'm working to pay off student loan debts."
Lewis is not alone, but if he worked for the federal government, especially on Capitol Hill, he may get some relief.
"The fact that it is not being declared with pride in Congress leads me to believe they don't think taxpayers would be enthusiastic about it," said USA Today reporter Paul Singer uncovered this government perk--your tax dollars going toward student loan payments of up to $800 a month.
Every year, taxpayers are shelling out $90 million to pay off the student loans of federal workers. More than $20 million of that is just for Congressional staffers.
"This is just one small benefit that helps Congressional offices recruit better candidates," said Brad Fitch, the President and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation.
He argues that the loan pay-off program helps the federal government hire the country's best and brightest.
"The pay that you get when you work on Capitol Hill isn't the same as you get in the private sector. On average, a Congressional staffer's going to get paid 20-30% lower than they would be in the private sector," said Fitch.
Now in place for more than a decade, the perk is at the heart of a simmering debate on Capitol Hill, whether it is ripe for the budgetary chopping block.
"What are the odds that Congress is going to eliminate a perk that benefits Congress? Because remember, it would require a Congressional staffer to write that legislation," noted Singer.
Only members of Congress themselves are ineligible for the program. For more on this story, check out the coverage on USA Today: http://usat.ly/11WRrHL.
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