What Shalanda Young’s Rise Means for Black Capitol Hill Staffers

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“Let’s support our sister Shalanda Young today,” it read.

“Sorors, please watch and support our own Soror Shalanda,” read another, using a term for another member of a sorority; Young, who recently gave birth to a baby girl, is a member of the historic Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority established at Howard University in 1908.

Described as the nerve center of the US government, many Americans are unfamiliar with the White House Office of Management and Budget, but the agency is extraordinarily large. Beyond preparing the president’s budget, the OMB oversees a myriad of agency programs and can tell agencies when they can spend funds.

As acting director, Young is a senior adviser to the president. Louisiana native helped work with Congress to secure key emergency funding for disaster relief and Afghan resettlement efforts as part of ongoing September resolution, White House official says . She spoke regularly with members of Congress to explain the budgetary impacts of various proposals during the negotiations on the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“I will continue to find common ground to be responsive and rebuild the career staff at OMB who play a central role in ensuring that our government works for all Americans,” she said during a confirmation hearing this week.

Young’s rise from a member of the presidential executive of the National Institutes of Health two decades ago to the president’s cabinet has been particularly resonant for black staffers on the Hill who are familiar with the low pay, grueling hours and Supreme discipline needed to rise through the ranks in Washington. In interviews, they described the former longtime House Appropriations Committee personnel director as sharp, unwavering and always prepared.

“She’s a generational talent. … I think she was more than qualified for this from the start. I’m thrilled,” said Brandon Casey, staff director for the House Ways and Means Committee.

“His rise shows you what is possible”

According to a 2020 study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, although people of color make up 40% of the population in the United States, they hold only 11% of Senate leadership positions on the Hill.

According to the report, only 3% of key Senate staffers are black.

Young’s rise is particularly remarkable given the barriers to entry for marginalized groups, according to staffers. Mia Keeys, chief of staff to Rep. Robin Kelly, Democrat of Illinois, got her first role on the Hill through the Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholars program run by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a now discontinued initiative.

“Since I’ve been on the Hill, she’s definitely someone I look up to, in terms of watching her walk. And really galvanized by her integrity, her character, her practice of bipartisanship, especially in very partisan seasons, “, said Keyes.

“She has a graceful side. She doesn’t play,” Keeys added.

Hill staffers are often bound by the difficulties many of them face in the early years of their Capitol careers, not only professionally, but also financially.

“I’ve been in situations where I was working on the Hill in my early days, and dinner was all I got at a party,” Keeys said, stressing the importance of having people in leadership roles that go beyond “diversity performance” and instead champion “the goal of equity”.

“Many of us don’t even find out about careers in Washington and don’t get on political staff until much later. The easiest entry point to being a congressional staffer is to intern, but do a Internship is being able to live in a super expensive city and get paid very little or, in previous years, nothing,” said Keenan Austin Reed, a lobbyist who officially served as chief of staff to Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Virginia. .

Reed co-founded the Black Women’s Congressional Alliance (BWCA) in 2018 as a support network for female Black Hill employees. Young addressed the group at an unofficial event in 2020. The BWCA, Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, and Congressional Black Associates are among the groups that are focused on increasing diversity on the Hill and working to recruit and retain more staff of color.

“It’s very difficult to find people, to keep them in the roles long enough to accomplish what Shalanda has accomplished. Twenty years is an investment in yourself and an investment in your career,” Reed said.

According to a study conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a significant number of black staff directors in the House of Representatives work for members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). According to data from the center, CBC members make up four of the five black administrators on House Committees of the Whole. There is currently no Black Senate Committee Staff Director.

Last March, the group organized a letter signed by 30 black organizations calling on Biden to appoint Young as director.

“I think when we have the opportunity, we will succeed – but we have to have the opportunity,” Casey said.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies also points to data from Legistorm that should set off alarm bells.

In 2020, LegiStorm compared the projected salary of the average white congressional staffer – $55,348 – to the average black staffer – $50,694. This is a difference of 9.2%. The center notes that this is the largest wage disparity since LegiStorm began collecting wage data in 2000.

“For some people…when you get these offers from the Hill, it’s the most money your family has ever seen anyone make. And it’s very hard to turn down,” Reed said.

“His rise shows you what’s possible,” Reed said of Young.

Mike McQuerry, director of communications for Deputy Stacey Plaskett, Democrat of the Virgin Islands, has worked on and off the Hill for more than 20 years and also describes a revolving door atmosphere.

“We don’t have a lot of institutional knowledge. A lot of us don’t stay. We come for a few years and then we leave… so you don’t have a lot of people who remember how things went. . 15 or 20 years ago,” McQuerry said.

Shuwanza Goff, deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, rose through the ranks with Young on the Hill. Goff, also a trailblazer, became the first black woman to serve as floor manager under House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in 2019.

“There is a large group of African-American senior staff on Capitol Hill and I hope Shalanda’s rise is something that those staffers and even some of the junior staffers can watch and see as something ‘they can research, and they can also achieve.'” Goff said.

Bipartisan respect for lawmakers

A key player in the 2019 Democratic shutdown negotiations, Young is praised by both Democrats and Republicans for her granular understanding of government and the budget and supply process.

At a hearing in March, she was called by Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, a “tough but fair negotiator.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chairs the appropriations committee, told CNN that Young is a “strategic thinker” who “has helped shape many solutions to some of the most pressing issues…and dealing with what in the past has been a man’s world.”

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota hailed her ‘respect for the institution’ during his confirmation hearing this week for the role of director, as he thanked her for her help in moving major plans forward. hydraulic infrastructure and to decode the manufacturing regulations in his state.

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