How Paid Internships Foster Inclusivity on Capitol Hill

Capital One joins forces with College to Congress to remove barriers for students pursuing congressional internships

Unpaid internships for college students with aspirations of working on Capitol Hill had long created a significant barrier for low-income students. The financial challenges coupled with the increased competition for the relatively few internships in congressional offices often left students wondering how they could get that first opportunity. An opportunity that is often life changing. 

Congressional internships have an uneven track record regarding compensation, decided on a case by case basis by each office, but in 2019 the House Administration Committee gave the final sign-off on a program and funding that allows House interns to receive monthly stipends.

The Committee approved $14 million as an initial down payment for interns. Each House office has a pool of $20,000 annually, and Senate office funds depend on state size. 

College to Congress (C2C) — a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that strives to systematically change congress by empowering a diverse, inclusive and effective generation of public servants — was a strong advocate for providing paid internships and continues to offer a comprehensive program to level the playing field for congressional interns. 

With support from corporations including Capital One, C2C provides congressional interns with financial support to cover transportation, housing, meals, professional wardrobe and various needs while working and living in Washington, D.C. The program pairs interns with 100 members of congress with even representation from both Democrat and Republican offices. The programming doesn’t stop at the financial, with networking and mentorship programs, as well as conversations about how to budget, apply for a job and the art of the thank you, C2C aims to look at the program as addressing the totality of the intern experience.

The Disproportionate Impact of Unpaid Internships on Minority Students

By ensuring that congressional interns are paid, C2C seeks to increase diversity on the Hill, as the financial burden of unpaid internships disproportionately affects minorities. Black families on average have less than 15 percent the wealth of white families, and Hispanic/Latinx families averaged 19 percent less. 

"Capital One has been a generous partner to help C2C make congress more reflective of the people it serves,” says Dennis Ross, interim Chief Executive Officer of C2C. “Its financial commitment, as well as their team's direct engagement with our organization and interns, has helped us give life-changing opportunities to individuals beginning their careers in public service."

Supporting Careers on Capitol Hill

Capital One is directly supporting C2Cs efforts through both funding and pro-bono work. In addition to financial support, Capital One associates Emily Weems, Head of the Government Policy Affairs Group, and Sarah Craighill, co-lead of the Public Affairs & Media Relations Team, have offered their time and talent in various ways, including mentorship, working to connect C2C participants to internships and providing strategic communications counsel. 

Both Weems and Craighill worked on Capitol Hill prior to joining Capital One and are personally passionate about the quest to create more opportunities for talented young people to build careers in public service.   

“Congressional internships are the gateway to full time careers on Capitol Hill and it is critical that those opportunities be available to any and all young people who are passionate about public service — not just those who can afford to work for free,” Weems said. “Washington is Capital One’s hometown and we’re proud to play a role in fostering a more inclusive talent pipeline for Capitol Hill offices on both sides of the aisle through our partnership with College to Congress.” 

According to C2C, it has helped 1,700 students throughout its nearly six years of operation. Of those students, 90% of interns went on to land full-time positions in congressional offices. 

“C2C ensured that I had the financial freedom to focus on what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be instead of worrying about whether I could afford to make my goals a reality,” said Shelby Kaplan, a 2021 C2C intern who is now a Scheduler/Executive Assistant for Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA). “The program helped me make the most of my internship opportunity by building relationships with people in my office and beyond. Ultimately, it was those relationships — as well as the financial, professional and emotional support that C2C provided — that helped me find a wonderful job on the Hill and begin building an exciting career and life."

Creating Opportunities With Paid Capitol Hill Internships

Elaine Ansah — a 2021 C2C intern for Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) — says that this program played an invaluable role in creating an opportunity for her to both intern on Capitol Hill and get hired for a full-time position at the program’s conclusion.

“I had one of the best experiences of my life doing this internship with the help of C2C,” Ansah said. “The C2C staff helped us on both a professional and personal level and made sure we were comfortable in a new environment and worked so hard to ensure that we all succeeded both throughout our internship and after. There’s no way that I could’ve felt so comfortable in my internship to the point where I could put myself in the position to earn a full-time job here without the help of C2C.”

After interning in Sen. Coons’s office, Ansah joined Rep. Cheri Bustos’s (D-IL) office as a Legislative Correspondent in August 2021 where she now manages the Office’s constituent correspondence.

“Being an intern is the best way to get your foot in the door on Capitol Hill,” Rep. Bustos said. “The sky's the limit for Elaine. The C2C program gave her the opportunity to be exposed to members of the House and to Senators so that we could see her in action. I really commend Capital One’s support of this program because it’s made a big difference for Elaine. She’s at the start of something really big for her future.”

Supporting Equal Opportunity for All Students

Rep. Bustos says that the C2C program is instrumental in ensuring that all students — regardless of their family’s economic backgrounds — can pursue an internship on Capitol Hill on equal ground.

“A lot of college students can’t go a whole summer without getting paid because they need to pay for their next semester of school or help their families,” Rep. Bustos said. “If you look at the history of internships on Capitol Hill, you traditionally had to be from a family that could afford to put you up in expensive housing and pay for your meals. What is so great about this program is that no matter what your background is, you can have an internship in a place like Washington, D.C.”

Capital One's support comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative — an initial $200 million, multi-year commitment that strives to advance socioeconomic mobility. Launched in October 2020, the Capital One Impact Initiative seeks to create a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper through advocating for an inclusive society, building thriving communities and creating financial tools that enrich lives. 

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