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Registered traveling nurse Patricia Carrete, of El Paso, Texas, reads a book during a quiet moment on a night shift at a field hospital set up to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Cranston, R.I. (AP) Registered traveling nurse Patricia Carrete, of El Paso, Texas, reads a book during a quiet moment on a night shift at a field hospital set up to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Cranston, R.I. (AP)

Registered traveling nurse Patricia Carrete, of El Paso, Texas, reads a book during a quiet moment on a night shift at a field hospital set up to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in Cranston, R.I. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone February 16, 2022

Congress hasn't proposed traveling nurse pay cap, but asked for staffing agencies probe

If Your Time is short

  • There has been no legislation proposed in Congress to cap pay for traveling nurses.

  • A letter signed by nearly 200 legislators called for an investigation into high pricing by staffing agencies, but its authors insist they do not want to cap wages for traveling nurses.

  • Some states are considering capping how much staffing agencies can charge healthcare facilities. This could lead to lower salaries for traveling nurses, one expert said.

A letter sent to a White House official and signed by nearly 200 members of Congress from both parties has sparked concern among traveling nurses that legislators want to cap their pay.

"According to Congress, travel nurses need a pay cap," read a Feb.  7 Facebook post from one nurse, who added, "Staff nurses aren’t paid enough, and the ones who left to travel and help are now being told they make too much. We were once heroic and now it’s back to reality."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

There’s no evidence that these lawmakers are advocating a cap on nursing pay. But a group of lawmakers did ask federal officials to inspect the way staffing agencies charge healthcare facilities. And some states are considering capping what staffing agencies charge hospitals, which one industry expert said could lead to reductions in nursing pay.

Congressional members call for investigation

Traveling nurses have been in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. The job often comes with higher than average pay — sometimes two to three times higher — as an incentive to attract nurses to temporarily live and work in areas where there aren’t enough qualified nurses. 

Two congressmen, Reps. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont and Morgan Griffith, a Republican from Virginia, spearheaded the Jan. 24 letter to Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response team coordinator, expressing concern that some staffing agencies are taking advantage of the pandemic to inflate their prices for profit. The lawmakers called for a federal investigation into the agencies’ pricing practices.

The American Hospital Association, American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living sent a similar letter to Zients on Jan. 27, saying the staffing agencies are "exploiting" the facilities’ "desperate" needs for personnel. 

"The AHA and AHCA/NCAL have each urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this conduct as a violation of our antitrust or consumer protection laws but we have not yet received any response," the letter said, urging Zients to see that the matter "gets the attention it merits from the federal government."

While both letters complained of the high rates staffing agencies are charging health care facilities to supply workers, neither mentioned capping pay for nurses or proposed any federal legislation that would cap pay.

Lawmakers say they oppose capping pay

Griffith issued a statement on Feb. 5 to address what he called "disinformation" about the letter, saying that he has not introduced legislation to cap nurses’ pay, nor would he support any.

"The bipartisan letter I sent to the White House asks about potential illegal practices by staffing agencies that charge high rates and then keep that money for themselves, not nurses. Rumors are that middleman staffing agencies keep as much as 40% of the money they charge for nurses instead of giving more of the money to the nurses," he said. "I do not and will not support legislation to cap nurses’ pay. Anything to the contrary is fake news."

Emily Becker, a spokesperson for Welch, said the congressman also is "categorically opposed to pay caps for nurses, including travel nurses." His office is "not aware" of any federal legislation proposed or in the works that would cap nurse pay and he "would oppose such legislation," she said.

Welch wants an investigation "to determine whether there has been any improper behavior on the part of staffing agencies and the private equity firms that own them," said Becker, who pointed to an article by the health news publication STAT, with a headline about private equity firms cashing in on the traveling nursing business. An analysis by STAT showed that since early 2021, "at least eight private equity firms have bought at least seven staffing agencies."

Welch has not heard back from the White House about the letter, Becker said.

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The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living said in a statement to PolitiFact that it also was not advocating for a pay cap for traveling nurses, but rather an investigation into "potential anticompetitive practices" by staffing agencies, who may be taking advantage of the pandemic and labor shortages, while only giving the nurses "a fraction of what the agency is charging the facility."

The American Nurses Association, meanwhile, earlier this month issued a statement calling on Congress to address the root causes of nurse shortages. It applauded efforts to address any price gouging, as long as "travel nurses are not negatively impacted in the process."

Some states have capped what staffing agencies can charge hospitals

The median pay for registered nurses in 2020, the last year data was available, was about $75,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries have risen for staff nurses as hospitals tried to attract workers and compete with staffing agencies, The Wall Street Journal reported.

High demand has translated into higher pay from staffing agencies, which in turn pass their higher costs on to hospitals and nursing homes, said Toby Malara, the vice president of government relations for the American Staffing Association, a trade group for the U.S. staffing and recruiting industry.

Malara said the higher prices are simply "a matter of supply and demand driving the rates up." Staffing agencies trying to attract nurses to high-demand areas must factor in higher costs of living in big cities and the risk for nurses working in COVID-19 hot spots, which he called "akin to hazard pay."

He said that 75% of the rates staffing agencies charge hospitals help cover expenses like nurses’ wages, federal and state taxes, workers compensation and unemployment insurance, and benefits. 

Malara said the ASA has not heard from the White House or the FTC about an investigation. An FTC spokesperson told PolitiFact that the agency does not comment on or confirm the existence of investigations.

Malara said that he does not expect to see any federal legislation as a result of the letter from the legislators.

But some states are considering rate caps on what staffing agencies can charge hospitals, which is in essence "a salary cap on nurses because you're limiting what nurses can be paid," Malara said. 

In Pennsylvania, Rep. Timothy Bonner introduced legislation in January that he said in a November memo "would establish maximum rates on agency health care personnel to end the practice of ‘gouging’ the Medicaid program and Pennsylvania taxpayers."

Currently, only Massachusetts and Minnesota have state caps on what staffing agencies can charge healthcare facilities for nurses or other professionals, MedPage Today reported. Malara said staffing agencies struggle to recruit nurses in those states because they can go elsewhere for higher pay if the market demands it.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said that "according to Congress, travel nurses need a pay cap."

A group of nearly 200 legislators sent a letter to the White House asking for a federal investigation into what it called "inflated" prices that staffing agencies are charging hospitals to supply nurses. A similar letter was sent by hospital and nursing home groups. No investigation has been announced by the White House or FTC.

However, the letters did not call for pay caps on what travel nurses make, nor has any legislation been proposed in Congress. The two main authors of the letter said they do not want to see lower pay for travel nurses as a result and would not support any legislation that proposes that.

Some states are considering rate caps on what staffing agencies can charge hospitals and that could ultimately result in lowered salaries for nurses, an industry expert said. But that’s not what the Facebook post is claiming.

We rate this claim False.

CORRECTION, Feb. 17, 2022: U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is a Democrat. An earlier version of this post listed the wrong party affiliation. 

Our Sources

Facebook post; Archived: here

Statement from ​​the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, Feb. 14, 2022

Email exchange with Emily Becker, spokesperson for Vermont U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, Feb. 15, 2022

Interview with Toby Malara, vice president, government relations, for the American Staffing Association, Feb. 15, 2022

Rep. Morgan Griffith, "Griffith statement on disinformation about nurses’ pay," Feb. 5, 2022

Letter from U.S. Reps. Peter Welch and Morgan Griffith, to Jeffrey Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator," Jan. 27, 2022

Letter from the American Hospital Association, the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living to Jeffrey Zients, Jan. 27, 2022 

Associated Press, "AG looks at high rates nursing home staffing agencies charge," Jan. 13, 2022

American Nurses Association, "ANA Calls on Congress and the Administration to Investigate and Mitigate the Root Causes of Nurse Shortages," Feb. 1, 2022

American Staffing Association, "What's Really Driving the Cost of Temporary Nurses," February 2022 

First Coast News, "No, Congress is not considering a salary cap for nurses," Feb. 14, 2022

Nurse.org, "This Legislation Could Cap Travel Nurse Pay, Staffing Agencies Accused of "Price Gouging," Feb. 3, 2022

The Wall Street Journal, "Travel Nurses Make Twice as Much as They Did Pre-Covid-19," Feb. 8, 2022

The Wall Street Journal, "Nurse Salaries Rise as Demand for Their Services Soars During Covid-19 Pandemic," Nov. 22, 2021

The New York Times, "‘Nursing Is in Crisis’: Staff Shortages Put Patients at Risk," Aug. 21, 2021

NPR, "For travel nurses, jobs at home can't come close to pay they get on the road," Feb. 11, 2022

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Registered Nurses, 2020

MedPage Today, "Will States Rein in Nurse Staffing Agencies?" Feb. 5, 2022

Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, "Rates for temporary nurses," May 8, 2020

Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, "Addendum to Massachusetts Secretary of State Regulation Filing Form 940 CMR 3:18, Price Gouging," 

Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, "Memo to temporary nursing agencies executive officers," Feb. 16, 2021

Minnesota Department of Human Services, "SNSA Maximum charges

Minnesota Department of Human Services, "Application Process for Waiver of SNSA Maximum Charges Request Form for MN Medicaid Certified Nursing Facilities," Oct. 16, 2020

Minnesota Department of Health, "Supplemental Nursing Services Agency, Minnesota statute 2000, section 144.057 - 144A.74," July 2001

Pennsylvania Rep. Timothy Bonner, "Registration and Oversight of Contract Health Care Service," Nov. 5, 2021

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Congress hasn't proposed traveling nurse pay cap, but asked for staffing agencies probe

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