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Members of Congress Don’t Have to Pay Social Security?

Claim

Members of Congress do not have to participate in Social Security.

Rating

Not True

Reporting

An indifferently capitalized and punctuated chain email turned viral social media posting has been around for many years, bearing claims that some elected officials don’t pay into Social Security:

Our Senators and Congressmen don’t pay in to Social Security, and, of course, they don’t collect from it.

The reason is that they have a special retirement plan that they voted for themselves many years ago. For all practical purposes, it works like this:

When they retire, they continue to draw their same pay, until they die, except that it may be increased from time to time, by cost of living adjustments.

[…]

This would be well and good, except that they paid nothing in on any kind of retirement, and neither does any other Senator or Congressman. This fine retirement comes right out of the General Fund: our tax money. While we who pay for it all, draw an average of $1000/month from Social Security.

Congressional pensions are controversial and many believe they should be reformed, but this particular online rumor contains several inaccuracies.

It is not true that members of Congress don’t pay into Social Security. It has been required of them since 1984:

The 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act (P.L. 98-21) required federal employees first hired after 1983 to participate in Social Security. These amendments also required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of January 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress. Because CSRS was not designed to coordinate with Social Security, Congress directed the development of a new retirement plan for federal workers. The result was the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-335).

Members of Congress first elected in 1984 or later are covered automatically under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS). All Senators and those Representatives serving as Members prior to September 30, 2003, may decline this coverage.

Congress does have its own retirement plan which pays a generous pension to retired members, plus they are eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan, a 401k-type investment program available to all federal employees. Depending on a person’s length of service, it is possible to retire with annual income that is equivalent to a Congressional salary, but no member of Congress automatically retires with their salary paid as a pension.

We are not certain where or when these claims originated, but we have been able to trace them back to as far back as 2001.