Presidential retirement benefits were non-existent until the enactment of the Former Presidents Act (FPA) in 1958. Since then, presidential retirement benefits have included a lifetime annual pension, staff and office allowances, travel expenses, Secret Service protection, and more.
The FPA was inspired by former President Harry Truman's life of modest means after leaving office. Though Truman lived well more than a decade after the act's passage, it didn't apply him. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower became its first beneficiary.
Former presidents are offered a taxable lifetime pension equal to the annual rate of basic pay for the heads of executive branch departments, like the Cabinet Secretaries. This amount is set annually by Congress and is currently $210,700 per year.
The pension starts the minute the president officially leaves office at noon on Inauguration Day. Widows of former presidents are provided with a $20,000 annual lifetime pension and mailing privileges unless they choose to waive their right to the pension.
In 1974, the Justice Department ruled that presidents who resign from office before their official terms of office expire are entitled to the same lifetime pension and benefits extended to other former presidents. However, presidents who are removed from office due to impeachment forfeit all benefits.
For the first seven months, beginning one month before the January 20 inauguration, former presidents get transition funding to help them transition back into private life. Granted under the Presidential Transition Act, the funds can be used for office space, staff compensation, communications services, and printing and postage associated with the transition. The amount provided is determined by Congress.
Staff and Office Allowances
Six months after a president leaves office, they get funds for an office staff. During the first 30 months after leaving office, the former president gets a maximum of $150,000 per year for this purpose. Thereafter, the Former Presidents Act stipulates that the aggregate rates of staff compensation for a former president cannot exceed $96,000 annually. Any additional staff costs must be paid for personally by the former president.
Former presidents are compensated for office space and office supplies at any location in the United States. Funds for former presidents' office space and equipment are authorized annually by Congress as part of the budget for the General Services Administration (GSA).
Under a law enacted in 1968, the GSA makes funds available to former presidents and no more than two of their staff members for travel and related expenses. To be compensated, the travel must be related to the former president's status as an official representative of the United States government. Travel for pleasure is not compensated. The GSA determines all appropriate costs for travel.
Secret Service Protection
With the enactment of the Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012 (H.R. 6620), on Jan. 10, 2013, former presidents and their spouses receive Secret Service protection for their lifetimes. Under the Act, protection for the spouses of former presidents terminates in the event of remarriage. Children of former presidents receive protection until they reach age 16.
The Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012 reversed a law enacted in 1994 that terminated Secret Service protection for former presidents 10 years after they left office.
Richard Nixon is the only former president to have given up his Secret Service protection. He did so in 1985 and paid for his own security, saying his reason was to save the government money. (The savings were estimated to be about $3 million a year.)
Former presidents and their spouses, widows, and minor children are entitled to treatment in military hospitals. Former presidents and their dependents also have the option of enrolling in private health insurance plans at their own expense.
Former presidents are traditionally granted state funerals with military honors. Details of the funeral are based on the wishes of the former president's family.
Failed Attempt to Cut Retirement
In April 2015, Congress passed a bill titled The Presidential Allowance Modernization Act, which would have capped the pensions of all former and future former presidents at $200,000 and removed the current provision in the Former Presidents Act linking presidential pensions to the annual salaries of cabinet secretaries.
The bill would have also reduced the other allowances paid to former presidents. Annual pensions and allowances would have been limited to a total of no more than $400,000.
But on July 22, 2016, President Barack Obama vetoed the bill stating it “would impose onerous and unreasonable burdens on the offices of former presidents.” In a press release, the White House added that Obama also objected to provisions of the bill that would “immediately terminate salaries and all benefits to staffers carrying out the official duties of former presidents-leaving no time or mechanism for them to transition to another payroll.”