The Federal Employees’ Retirement System, or FERS, provides retirement benefits to federal employees as a supplement to Social Security benefits. The plan gives annuity benefits based on years of service, and a tax-deferred savings plan similar to an IRA to all federal employees, including congressional staff members. Congress enacted FERS in 1983 to replace the Civil Service Retirement System for all federal and postal employees hired after 1983.
Annuity benefits provided to retired congressional staff members through FERS work in a similar way to retirement benefits paid through the Social Security program. The program bases the amount of congressional staff annuity on credits accrued through years of service. Simply put, an annuity is a fund designed to collect and grow money contributed by an individual. That money goes to the individual in even payments upon retirement. Congressional staff members are eligible to receive retirement annuity through FERS after five years of employment. They will also receive Social Security benefits. Congressional staff members with five years of service can receive retirement benefits at age 62. Staff members with 20 years of service can receive benefits at 60. Those with 30 years of service can retire at 55.
Thrift Savings Plan
The Thrift Savings Plan provided by FERS is an optional retirement benefit available to congressional staff members. Similar to an IRA, the TSP allows federal employees to contribute a percentage of their annual income to a tax-deferred account that will pay out along with annuity benefits upon retirement. The 2010 FERS Question and Answer booklet states that federal employees, such as congressional staff members, who contribute 5 percent of their annual income to a TSP, will receive 33 percent more in annual retirement benefits.
Congressional staff members enrolled in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program since the earliest opportunity, in the five years preceding retirement, or for the entire period of eligibility, can continue receiving health benefits through the plan if they retire on immediate annuity. Federal employees ineligible for membership in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program are eligible for Medicare through the Social Security retirement benefits program. Most congressional staff members will receive Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facility care, home health care, and hospice care.