Members of Congress do not receive their full pay upon retirement
CLAIM: Politicians receive full-pay retirement benefits even after serving only one term.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Under federal law, members of Congress do not receive their full pay when they retire, and they must serve at least five years to be entitled to a pension.
THE FACTS: A post circulating on Facebook attempts to contrast what people who serve in the U.S military for 20 years receive when they retire compared to those who serve in Congress.
“No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women who serve in the U.S. military for 20 years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their base pay. While politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full pay retirement after serving 1 term.” states the post, which has been shared more than 73,000 times on Facebook alone.
“That’s completely false,” said Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, discussing the information on retirement benefits received by those who serve in Congress.
“There’s a five-year vesting period. You have to work for five years before you qualify for benefits,” said Biggs, who focuses on state and local government pensions.
Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms, while Senators serve six-year terms. House members who leave after one term are not entitled to retirement benefits since they must serve at least five years.
Congressmen and congressional staff get nearly the same pensions as other federal employees, Biggs said.
“Now, a federal employee pension is pretty generous by private sector standards, but that’s a completely different story from claiming that congressmen receive a full pension after one year on the job. They do not,” he said.
According to Biggs, in regards to military retirement benefits, it is true that those who serve 20 years in the military get a pension equal to 50 percent of their base salary.
There are multiple retirement plans available to people who served in the military, depending on when they joined and how many years they served.
Biggs noted that the military is trying to reform pensions. “It was seen as an unfair pension. They are trying to fix that to make it more fair between people at different career lengths,” he said.
Since 2009, base pay for Representatives and Senators has been $174,000 each year.
A Congressional research report updated in August 2019 outlines pension plans for Congress members. “By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary,” the report states.
Biggs said congressional pensions are more generous than federal employees since members of Congress and staff often lose their job as a result of elections. “To really get a great pension, you have to serve a long time,” Biggs said. “It’s still a good deal.”
There are multiple plans available depending on the member’s age and service. The Civil Service Retirement system is an option available to members who were elected to Congress before 1984. Members who were elected after 1984 are automatically enrolled in the Federal Employees’ Retirement System.
Under the Civil Service Retirement System, retirement with an immediate, full pension is available to members who are 60 or older with 10 years of service in Congress, or people age 62 with five years of civilian federal service, including service in Congress.
According to the Federal Employee Retirement System, members can retire with a full, immediate pension if they are 62 or older with at least five years of federal service; aged 50 or older with at least 20 years of service, and members at any age can retire with at least 25 years of service.
“It’s not hard to check this stuff, but nobody cares,” Biggs said. “The story is too good to check.”
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.