Written by Ashton Snyder on
 June 19, 2024

Congress Reimbursement Program: High Claims By Lawmakers Unveiled

A new congressional reimbursement program has drawn criticism over its lack of receipt requirements, which some say could lead to abuse. About 300 members of Congress utilized the program last year, racking up nearly $6 million in reimbursements.

Last year, a new program allowed members to top off their salaries with reimbursements for food and housing without needing receipts.

According to Daily Mail, the program was introduced to help lawmakers cope with the high costs of maintaining housing in their home districts and the expensive Washington, D.C., market. Members of Congress who earn a $174,000 annual salary could claim an additional $30,000 or more under this program. This change was part of a House rule modification to ease financial burdens.

Top Spenders and Controversy

Rep. Jack Bergman, a Republican from Michigan, was the highest claimant, with reimbursements totaling $44,079 for lodging and meals. Other notable high claimers included Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, who claimed $42,279, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, who claimed $40,092.

A striking aspect of this program is that it does not require receipts for expenses related to food and housing. Critics argue that this lack of accountability could lead to potential misuse of funds. Despite this, Speaker Mike Johnson refrained from using the program, contrasting with former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who claimed $23,011 on top of his $223,500 speaker's salary.

Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, claimed $37,277 and reportedly overcharged taxpayers by $12,000 for a home she owns and rents out. The DailyMail.com report underlined the program's shortcomings by highlighting such potential for misuse.

Legal Limitations and Compliance

The program allows members to expense hotels and rent within the per diem set by the General Services Administration (GSA) for days they are in Washington, D.C., on official business. However, expensing mortgage payments or interest on homes they own is not permitted under this program. Members can only claim reimbursements for utilities, property taxes, and home insurance.

"We had a lot of questions in the beginning," said a source involved in implementing the change, emphasizing the efforts to stick to a narrow range of reimbursements, including insurance, taxes, and utilities.

Financial disclosures reveal that Rep. Jack Bergman has assets valued between $647,000 and $1.4 million. Rep. Matt Gaetz's 2023 financial disclosures are pending, but in 2022, his assets ranged between $341,000 and $1.2 million, with liabilities between $20,000 and $30,000. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who reimbursed herself $40,092, has assets ranging between $37,000 and $208,000, with liabilities between $45,000 and $150,000.

Broader Impact and Legislative Background

Rep. Ilhan Omar also drew attention for paying her husband's political consulting firm $3 million in 2020. Omar, who has four children, may continue to face scrutiny over her financial practices in light of these new reimbursement claims.

The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress suggested the expense program in 2022 as a workaround to address the financial needs of members who have not received a pay raise since 2009. Political implications of giving themselves a raise have kept lawmakers from direct salary increases, pushing them to alternative solutions like this reimbursement plan.

Critics argue that while the intent behind the program was commendable, the execution and the loopholes pose significant challenges. The average reimbursement amount claimed by members was $18,000, indicating that many took advantage of the system to supplement their income. Members who choose to sleep in their offices are barred from claiming housing expenses, ensuring that some level of restraint and guidelines are maintained within the program.

 Concluding Thoughts

The new program for covering additional housing costs in Washington, D.C., and home districts allows sizable claims without receipts, raising accountability concerns. Leading claimants like Rep. Jack Bergman, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Rep. Ilhan Omar have sparked debates on its efficacy and potential misuse. Lawmakers support it for managing high living costs, while critics urge tighter controls to prevent undue expenses, suggesting future adjustments to balance support and abuse prevention.

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About Ashton Snyder

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