(BURLINGTON FREE PRESS) — WASHINGTON — As demands for fiscal austerity dominated debate in Washington, Vermont’s three congressional lawmakers gave their staffers a combined $236,830 in bonuses last year.

Many other congressional lawmakers also rewarded staffers with year-end bonuses, and the Vermont lawmakers found other ways to save. Each will return a significant amount of unspent office money — about 10 percent of their budgets — to the federal government.

The Vermont lawmakers saw the bonuses as a way to reward hard-working staffers, many of whom earn much less than they would in the private sector.

Michael Briggs, a spokesman for independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “We have an extremely hard-working and aggressive staff that puts in long hours and (Sanders) could hire more people but does not. That’s how he’s able to give back to the taxpayers the amount that he does at the end of the fiscal year.”

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