Washington — On the day New Jersey voters went to the polls to formally fill the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg's seat, his widow stood to receive a gift from Congress Wednesday: $174,000.
Tucked within the pages of the compromise Senate plan to end the government shutdown and to raise the nation's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling is a $174,000 appropriation for Bonnie Engelbardt Lautenberg, the late senator's wife.
"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," a section on Page 20 of the 35-page bill.
The money is a death gratuity, an unofficial practice provided to the spouses of deceased members of Congress. Senate aides said Wednesday that surviving spouses receive one year of the late lawmaker's salary.
Lautenberg ranked eighth on Roll Call's list of the "50 Richest Members of Congress" with a net worth of at least $56.8 million in 2012. A 2012 Congressional Research Service report calls the congressional gesture a gift.
“The Senate Handbook indicates that “[i]n the next Appropriation Bill, an item will be inserted for a gratuity to be paid to the widow(er) or other next-of-kin, in the amount of one year’s compensation,” the report states. "By statute, a death gratuity is considered a gift."