Dear Mr. Mitchell:
Thank you for contacting me regarding retirement benefits for members of Congress. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views with me.
In your correspondence, you referred to misinformation that has been circulated, which reports that Representatives and Senators do not pay into the Social Security system. This correspondence further claims that retired Members continue to receive their full salary for the rest of their life. I have been contacted by several Kentuckians who have expressed concern that such a system is unfair and could potentially undermine the stability of the Social Security system. However, I wanted to inform you that the information portrayed in this Internet report is incorrect and does not accurately detail the retirement system currently in place for Members of Congress.
Representatives and Senators participate in one of two main retirement systems for employees of the federal government, based on their beginning date of service: the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). The Civil Service Retirement System was the retirement system for federal employees who began working before 1984. It was originally designed as a comprehensive financial plan that included a retirement plan and disability insurance. Under this system, federal employees did not pay into the Social Security system and, therefore, were not eligible to receive Social Security benefits.
In 1983, Congress made significant changes to the federal employee retirement plan in conjunction with comprehensive reforms made to shore up the Social Security system. Under the 1983 reforms, all federal employees hired after 1983 are required to participate in the Social Security system. Similarly, all Members of Congress, regardless of the date of their election, are required to pay into the Social Security system. Because CSRS was created separately from and was not compatible with the Social Security system, Congress created a new retirement plan for federal employees. This new plan, called the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), was established in 1986 as a means of ensuring that federal retirement was compatible with Social Security.
With the creation of FERS, there are now four possible retirement plans for Members: (1) full coverage under both CSRS and Social Security, (2) CSRS Offset, which reduces CSRS payments by Social Security contributions and benefits, (3) FERS and Social Security, and (4) Social Security alone. Only those Members of Congress who served prior to 1983 are eligible for CSRS. Additionally, the law governing federal retirement states that annual pension amounts can only equal 80 percent of the Member’s final salary and to reach this point an individual would have to serve in Congress for 32 years. In fact, the average retirement pay for former Representatives and Senators is well below their annual pay. And, to reiterate, no Member of Congress, regardless of which retirement system they choose, is exempt from paying into Social Security under current law.
Again, thank you for sharing your support with me. I am concerned that many people are receiving inaccurate information on the retirement options for Members of Congress. I hope you will continue to keep me informed of your comments and concerns.
United States Senator