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White House to pay its interns, Biden administration announces

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on June 2 said that the Biden administration would begin paying interns in the fall of 2022. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The White House announced Thursday that it will launch a paid internship program as part of an effort to remove barriers for applicants from diverse backgrounds.

“Too often, unpaid federal internships have been a barrier to hard-working and talented students and professionals, preventing them from contributing their talents and skills to the country and holding them back from federal career advancement opportunities,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House internship program had been on hold through President Biden’s term because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first intern session of the Biden administration will start in the fall, and prospective interns can begin submitting their applications Monday, according to a White House website about the internship program.

The deadline to apply for the fall session is June 24. Those who are selected for the fall program will be notified in August. Interns will be paid $750 per week but must arrange for their own housing and relocation, the White House said.

“This significant milestone of paying White House interns will help remove barriers to equal opportunity for low-income students and first-generation professionals at the beginnings of their careers,” the White House said, “and help to ensure that those who receive internships at the White House — and who will be a significant part of the leadership pipeline across the entire federal government — reflect the diversity of America.”

The Biden administration originally billed it as “the first time in history” that there would be a paid internship program at the White House, but records from the Gerald Ford Presidential Library show that White House interns in the summer of 1974 were considered “salaried employees.” (Undergraduate student interns were paid $125 a week and graduate student interns were paid $150 a week, according to those records.)

Christina Kielich, who was a White House intern that summer, recalled it as a “wonderful” and “spectacular” opportunity that gave her a front-row seat to historic political events — including the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in August 1974. But it was also an opportunity that she wouldn’t have been able to afford had it not been paid, Kielich said Thursday.

“It was all children of titans of industry, and then there was me,” Kielich told The Washington Post with a laugh, referring to her fellow intern class. “It opened doors like crazy for me.”

In a news briefing Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said it would be “the first time in recent history” that the White House would pay its interns.

Unpaid internships have come under scrutiny in recent years, criticized as opportunities that only those from more privileged backgrounds can afford to take, particularly in expensive cities like New York or Washington.

In 2019, a congressional committee signed off on a program that would allow Capitol Hill interns to be paid a maximum of $1,800 a month for each intern.

Paying congressional interns used to be common practice — Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had a paid internship on Capitol Hill in 1969 — but it turned into an office-by-office decision when funds were cut for deficit reduction. A 2017 survey by the nonprofit Pay Our Interns showed that more than 90 percent of House offices did not pay interns, while in the Senate, 51 percent of GOP offices and 31 percent of Democratic ones paid their interns.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.