MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ever since Senator Franken announced his resignation last week, several viewers have emailed WCCO with questions about his retirement benefits.
Jeanne from Hastings, Ron from Blaine and others want to know: What benefits does a Member of Congress get after leaving office? Good Question.
A sitting Member of Congress earns a salary of $174,000/year. That ends when he or she is no longer in office. But, depending on when the Member was elected, that person does receive a pension, access to a 401(k)-like retirement account and, in many cases Social Security benefits. Members of Congress started paying into Social Security in 1984.
These benefits are generally the same as other federal employees would receive.
According to the Congressional Research Service, members are eligible for the pension at age 62 if they’ve served five years or more. (They are eligible at earlier ages with more years of service.)
There are two types of pension plans – the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), which was offered to Members elected before 1984 and the plan that replaced it — the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which is offered to Members elected after 1984. The CSRS pension plan is slightly more generous than the FERS plan. Given Members of Congress starting contributing to Social Security in 1984, FERS was designed to supplement Social Security retirement benefits.
Under both systems, the size of the pension depends on how long the Member has been in service and a percentage of the average of their three highest years of pay. The Congressional Research Service reports there are 611 retired Members of Congress with federal pension. For the Members under the CSRS plan, the average pension Is $74,000/year. Under the FERS plan, it’s $41,000/year. For Senator Franken, it will be about $26,000/year.
Whether or not a Members resigns, retires or is voted out of office does not affect his or her pension. The only way a Member of Congress can be denied a pension is if her or she was convicted of a felony committed while in office. Some of those felonies would include bribery, perjury, racketeering, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and acting as an agent of a foreign official.
Members of Congress and other federal employees also have access to the Thrift Savings Plan, which is similar to 401(k) programs in other businesses. In 2018, employees were allowed to make voluntary contributions of up to $18,500. The government will match contributions of up to 5-percent of pay for FERS employees. For CSRS employees, there is no government match.
As for health care benefits, Members of Congress get their health care through the Affordable Care Act exchanges while in office. Once they retire, they can go through the federal employee health plan — but would still pay a percentage of the premiums.
According to Senator Franken’s office, his health care is covered under Medicare.