RETIREMENT BENEFITS FOR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

Apr 13th, 2012 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Moments Blog

The Truth about Congress Members’ Benefits

If you have ever received those annoying email forwards that rail about congress’ benefits, you will appreciate this post.  Those email chains and blog posts claim congress members retire with extravagant pay, don’t have to participate in Social Security, and have unlimited health care benefits.


Not so.  SCJ has finally dug up the truth about pensions, Social Security and health care benefits for senators and representatives.  Here it is.

The Federal Employees Retirement System

Federal employees, including most members of Congress, are covered by the FERS.  This includes

  • Social Security. Social Security taxes are withheld from their pay, just like everyone else. They are eligible for retirement benefits at age 62, just like everyone else.  Prior to 1984, Congressional members were under the Civil Service Retirement System, and were not required to pay into Social Security, and they could not receive Social Security benefits. There are about 50 Congress members elected before 1984, and they now must participate in Social Security.
  • A pension benefit. Federal employees are covered by a traditional defined benefit plan which most private sector employees are not offered.  According to the Congressional Research Service, “As of October 1, 2009, 455 retired members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service. Of this number, 275 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $69,012. A total of 180 members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $40,140 in 2009.”  The federal government picks up the bulk of the retirement benefit cost, which means the taxpayers foot this bill.
  • The CRS reports, “Under both CSRS and FERS, members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.”
  • The Thrift Savings Plan. The federal government contributes one percent of the base pay of every member of Congress to a savings plan, whether or not the member makes a contribution.  This is a plan similar to the 401(k) and 403(b) in the private and non-profit communities.

Health Care Plan for Federal Employees

There are about eight million federal employees, retirees and dependents.  Congressmen and women are included in this group.  They all participate in the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP). The Congressional Office of Personnel Management says the FEHBP offers “…the widest selection of health plans in the country.”  At age 65, members of Congress are eligible for Medicare and pay the same 1.45 percent tax on salary as does every one else in the country.

Members of Congress can obtain routine health care from the Office of the Attending Physician (in the Capitol) for $503 per year. This is an in-house physician/medical facility that includes routine stuff like annual physicals, x-rays, laboratory studies and physical therapy.  Congressional representatives can also receive medical and emergency dental care at military hospitals and clinics.  The cost of this service is either free or covered by FEHBP.

So that’s it, Seniors.  The next time you get that email full of distortions about Congressional benefits, send your friends the link to this post.



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