House CR Forks Over $174,000 for Late Senator’s Wife
By Matt Fuller
Posted at 3:08 p.m. Sept. 20
But there’s one provision tucked into the CR that may anger constituents back home: Among the various sections of the House-passed CR are 28 words that would pay $174,000 to the widow of the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J.
“Sec. 134. Notwithstanding any other provision of this joint resolution, there is appropriated for payment to Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, widow of Frank R. Lautenberg, late a Senator from New Jersey, $174,000.”
The death gratuity — a long-practiced, little-known, unofficial perk of office — has been a staple of congressional deaths. A Congressional Research Service report on members who die in office says:
“…it has been the typical practice of the House to provide a death gratuity equal to the member’s annual salary, payable to the deceased member’s widow or widower, or children either in the annual legislative branch appropriations act or a measure providing supplemental funds for the legislative branch. By statute, a death gratuity is considered a gift.”
Before Lautenberg’s death, he was No. 8 on Roll Call’s 50 Richest Members of Congress with a net worth of at least $56.8 million.
That raises a question for the government watchdogs at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington: ”Why is the government throwing money at a multimillionaire?”
In a post on CREW’s website, Daniel Schuman says the situation is “even more galling” when you think about the choice it represents.
“Congress just voted to cut food stamps for poor children,” Schuman says, referring to the nutrition bill passed in the House on Thursday. “The self-serving attitude that the death gratuity embodies places members of Congress above the public they are elected to serve. The last place this giveaway belongs is in legislation intended to contain only the essential measures to keep the government open.”