All Wise One who knows where to get the information we all want to know: Can you tell me please whether or not anyone works in the U.S. Congress gets Social Security on top of a pension from the government when they have decided or we have decided that they are done in politics? I am curious to know as I have never been able to find the true answer to this question. -- K.K., Byron.
It's good to be all-wise, but it's a burden, too. To know A LOT doesn't mean to know EVERYTHING. The fact is, it's a complicated issue. So we turned to former DFL Congressman Tim Penny, a 12-year member during whose tenure from 1983 to 1995 the retirement system for members was changed.
Penny said that when he arrived in Washington, members were part of a generous "defined benefit" retirement system. "You paid precious little and the payout was pretty substantial."
He decided not to enroll in it because it ran counter to his concept of public service.
"I didn't sign up for it, and I'm happy not to have," he said.
A couple of years later, the program was overhauled, and members began paying into Social Security as part of that change. The new program was called the Federal Employee's Retirement System (FERS).
Members who were elected after 1984 are automatically part of FERS. Those elected before 1984 could stay in the old, more generous system. (We'd tell you the name of the old system, but you'd probably forget it. OK, it's called the Civil Service Retirement System or CSRS for short. )
The current system is made up of Social Security, basic annuity and a Thrift Savings Plan investment account. So the answer to your question is yes. Senators and representatives do receive Social Security benefits, because they are obligated to pay into it.
Even if it's less generous than the older system, it's still a pretty good deal. The Atlantic estimated that when former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio retired, he received an $86,000 annual pension. It wasn't his entire annual salary, but it was a healthy portion of it.
According to FERS, members can retire with a full immediate pension if they are 62 or older with at least five years of federal service, or age 50 or older with at least 20 years of service, and members at any age can retire with at least 25 years of service.
If you trust Wikipedia as a source, this stat might interest you. It says the average annual pension for the more than 200 former members of Congress in the old system is $71,000. For the 200 retired members in the new system, the average pension is $41,000. That's not including Social Security.
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