Allowances Available to Members of US Congress

Supplements to Salaries and Benefits

U.S. Capitol Building
Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

If they choose to accept them, all members of the United States Congress are given various allowances intended to cover personal expenses incurred while carrying out their duties.

The allowances are provided in addition to salaries, benefits and allowed outside income. The salary for most senators, representatives, delegates, and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico is $174,000. The Speaker of the House receives a salary of $223,500. The president pro tempore of the Senate and the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate receive $193,400.

Congressional Salaries: Myths and Facts

The pay of members of Congress has long been a subject of debate, confusion, and misinformation. Members are paid a salary only during the terms for which they are elected. They do not, as has been widely claimed in social media, receive “their full salaries for life.” In addition, members do not get additional pay for service on committees, and they are not eligible for housing or per diem allowances for expenses incurred in Washington, DC. Lastly, neither the members of Congress nor their families are exempt from having to pay off student loans.

The salaries of members of Congress have not changed since 2009.

Article I, Section 6, of the U.S. Constitution, authorizes compensation for members of Congress “ascertained by law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.” Adjustments are governed by the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 and the 27th Amendment to the Constitution.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, Congressional Salaries and Allowances, the allowances are provided to cover "official office expenses, including staff, mail, travel between a Member's district or state and Washington, D.C., and other goods and services."

Representatives and senators are allowed to accept up to 15% of their base salary in permitted “outside earned income.” Since 2016, the limit on outside income has been $27,495. Since 1991, representatives and senators have been prohibited from accepting honoraria—payment for professional services that are usually rendered free of charge.

The Members' Representational Allowance (MRA)

In the House of Representatives, the Members' Representational Allowance (MRA) is made available to help members defray expenses resulting from three specific components of their "representational duties": the personal expenses component, the office expenses component, and the mailing expenses component.

Use of the MRA allowance is subject to a number of restrictions. For example, members may not use MRA funds to pay or help pay any personal or campaign-related expenses. Members are also prohibited (unless authorized by the House Ethics Committee) from using campaign funds or committee funds to pay for expenses related to official congressional duties; maintaining an unofficial office account; accepting funds or assistance from a private source for an official activity; or using personal funds to pay for franked mail.

In addition, each member is responsible for paying any expenses that are in excess of the authorized MRA level or that are not reimbursable under regulations of the Committee on House Administration.

Before authorization of the MRA in 1996, each member of Congress was given multiple allowances covering different categories of spending—including hiring clerks, official expenses allowance, and official mail allowance. The establishment of the MRA followed efforts by the House, dating back to the late 1970s, to move to a system of increased flexibility and accountability for Member office operations.

In September 1995, the Committee on House Administration agreed that multiple allowances should be consolidated. In November 1995, the Fiscal Year 1996 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act combined the separate appropriations for personal office staff, official office expenses, and mail costs into a single new appropriation heading, “Members’ Representational Allowances.”

According to the Appropriations Committee report on the bill, the consolidation was adopted to simplify accounting practices and allow members to more easily show savings achieved when they did not spend all of their allowances.

Total Amount of MRAs

Each member receives the same amount of MRA funds for personal expenses. Allowances for office expenses vary from member to member based on the distance between the member's home district and Washington, D.C., and the average rent for office space in the member's home district.

The House sets the funding levels for the MRA annually as part of the federal budget process. According to the CRS report, the House-passed fiscal year 2017 legislative branch appropriations bill set this funding at $562.6 million.

In 2016, each member’s MRA increased by 1% from the 2015 level, and the MRAs range from $1,207,510 to $1,383,709, with an average of $1,268,520.

Office Expenses

Most of each member's annual MRA allowance is used to pay their office personnel. In 2016, for example, the office personnel allowance for each member was $944,671.

Each member is allowed to use their MRA to employ up to 18 full-time, permanent employees.

Some primary responsibilities of the congressional staffs in both the House and Senate include analysis and preparation of proposed legislation, legal research, government policy analysis, scheduling, constituent correspondence, and speech writing.

Mailing Expenses

Allowances for mailing vary based on the number of residential mailing addresses in the member's home district as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

All members are required to provide a quarterly report detailing exactly how they spent their MRA allowances. All House MRA expenditures are reported in the quarterly Statement of Disbursements of the House.

The Senators' Official Personnel and Office Expense Account

In the U.S. Senate, the Senators' Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA) is made up of three separate allowances: the administrative and clerical assistance allowance, the legislative assistance allowance, and the official office expense allowance.

Allowance Totals

All senators receive the same amount for the legislative assistance allowance. The size of the administrative and clerical assistance allowance and the office expense allowance vary based on the population of the state the senators represent, the distance between their Washington, D.C. office and their home states, and limits authorized by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

The combined total of the three SOPOEA allowances can be used at the discretion of each Senator to pay for any type of official expenses they incur, including travel, office personnel or office supplies. However, expenses for mailing are currently limited to $50,000 per fiscal year.

The size of the SOPOEA allowances is adjusted and authorized within the "Contingent Expenses of the Senate" account in the annual legislative branch appropriations bills enacted as part of the annual federal budget process.

The allowance is provided for the fiscal year. The preliminary list of SOPOEA levels contained in the Senate report accompanying the fiscal year 2017 legislative branch appropriations bill shows a range of $3,043,454 to $4,815,203. The average allowance is $3,306,570.

Usage Restrictions

Senators are prohibited from using any portion of their SOPOEA allowance for any personal or political purposes, including campaigning. Payment of any amount spent in excess of a senator's SOPOEA allowance must be paid by the senator.

Unlike in the House, the size of senators' administrative and clerical assistance staff is not specified. Instead, senators are free to structure their staffs as they choose, as long as they do not spend more than provided to them in the administrative and clerical assistance component of their SOPOEA allowance.

By law, all SOPOEA expenditures of each senator are published in the Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Senate,

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Longley, Robert. "Allowances Available to Members of US Congress." ThoughtCo, Jul. 29, 2021, Longley, Robert. (2021, July 29). Allowances Available to Members of US Congress. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "Allowances Available to Members of US Congress." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).