Today, in light of Inauguration Day, we are re-sharing this blog post originally published by Tyler Bond on February 20, 2017, about presidential pensions. Updated information will be reflected in italics.
Just like most legislators, former presidents receive a lifetime pension for their service. How much is that pension and what other perks do former presidents enjoy? Read on to find out!
Pensions for former presidents were established by the Former Presidents Act in 1958. Before the FPA was enacted, ex-presidents did not receive pensions or other retirement benefits after they left office. In 1912, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie had offered to fund a $25,000 annual pension for ex-presidents. However, both Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft declined his offer and the idea of presidential pensions died for the time being. During the 1950s, Harry Truman declined numerous job offers after his presidency and lived modestly in his family home in Independence, MO. Truman’s lack of financial resources prompted passage of the Former Presidents Act. Unfortunately, the passage of this law did not help Truman because Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to fall under the provisions of the FPA.
The amount of the pension is equal to the annual salary of heads of Executive Branch departments, such as Cabinet secretaries. As of 2020, this amount is $210,700 per year (this amount is set by Congress each year). The presidential pension is taxable income and begins as soon as the president leaves office.
In addition to their pensions, former presidents and their spouses also receive lifetime Secret Service protection. This provision was included in the Former Presidents Act. Richard Nixon was the only president to decline Secret Service protection. He relinquished his protection in 1985, about a decade after resigning from office.
Speaking of Richard Nixon, the Justice Department has ruled that presidents who resign from office are still entitled to their lifetime pension and other benefits, including Secret Service protection. A president removed from office through impeachment, however, would forfeit their pension and other benefits. So far no president has lost their pension. Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency before impeachment charges could be filed and it was his resignation that prompted the Justice Department’s ruling.
The widow of a former president is entitled to a $20,000 annual pension. However, to receive it, she must relinquish any other pensions or annuities. Neither Nancy Reagan nor Betty Ford received the first lady’s pension because they declined to relinquish other pension benefits.
Presidential pensions were established for the same reason as pension plans for other workers: to provide for a secure retirement. The current trend of ex-presidents earning millions of dollars through speaking fees and other activities is a relatively recent development. In the past, former presidents did not cash in on their presidency in the same way that ex-presidents do now. All workers should be able to retire with security and dignity, including former leaders of the free world.