What Retirement Benefits Do Elected Officials Receive?

by Gail Cohen

    No wonder elected officials are willing to put up with the baby hugging, glad-handing and chicken dinners served at endless fundraising events. Survival in Washington D.C., state capitols and within municipal governments can be sweetened with a figurative pot at the end of the career rainbow in the form of excellent retirement benefits. Not every elected official in the land lays claim to a retirement package, but those who do get some nice perks.

    Federal Pensions

    Presidential pensions aren’t fixed. Since 2008, the amount a retiring president receives is based on the salary he received while on the job. Either the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) or the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) covers the Vice President, Cabinet and members of the Senate and House of Representatives. Years of service determine the amount elected officials receive in pension funds. Since there are no term limits for some, entrenched lawmakers enjoy great pensions. A 2006 audit revealed that some former members of Congress collect both FERS and CSRS pensions after retiring.

    State Pensions

    According to Sally Kestin of the "Sun Sentinel," Florida state officeholders receive special treatment that gives them opportunities to accrue retirement benefits like pensions faster and in larger amounts than others in the state’s system. Former elected officials collect “nearly three times more” than other retirees. To qualify for this windfall, a Florida lawmaker need only serve five years. Illinois has virtually bankrupted its state's pension fund. Retired Illinois legislators collect six-plus figures from a fund that’s emptying fast. According to the publication “Red State,” many states are in hot water over state pensions as a result of huge payouts to retirees. Editors say it’s time for elected officials to plan for their own retirements!

    Just For Presidents

    When George H. W. Bush was admitted to the hospital for treatment in late 2012, his medical care came courtesy of a retirement benefit package that provides access to treatment at the Walter Reed Medical Center, U.S. military bases and local hospitals because they're all covered by a health care plan funded by the federal government just for retired presidents. Medical care is only one of the benefits provided under the “Former Presidents Act,” according to the National Archives. In addition, the Administrator of General Services underwrites security services if not provided by the Secret Service, travel expenses plus staff and office expense reimbursement for all retired presidents and former first ladies.

    Just for State Officials

    Every state offering retirement benefits to elected officials is unique, but New York State has a particularly interesting model. Retiree health insurance for elected officials is not “guaranteed by the state Constitution,” according to the Empire Center for New York State Policy, but it has been offered as a retirement benefit for elected officials since 1957. The system is strained at the seams and the Legislature is considering stringent modifications to reign in expenses. New York City elected officials receive a second tier of medical benefits that include dental, vision and drug coverage and 100 percent of the premium is covered by that city’s retirement benefit plan.

    Just For Municipal Officials

    To handle retirement benefits for tens of thousands of elected officials serving as mayors, commissioners, county, city and township officials, nonprofit organizations set up by state governments usually centralize the administration and distribution of employee benefits. The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), created in 1933, is a typical example of such an agency. Salaried GMA staff makes decisions about benefits accorded retirees that are based on years of service and accrued salary. Included in the Georgia retirement benefit package are disability insurance, cost-of-living increases and health care coverage, but if you peruse agencies underwriting the benefits of elected officials in the other 49 states, you are bound to discover an interesting assortment of retirement perks.

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    About the Author

    Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.

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