Many were shocked by Hillary Clinton’s revelation that she and former President Bill Clinton were broke when they left the White House. That might make you wonder how former presidents actually pay their bills once their terms are over.
The Congressional Research Service, which provides policy and legal analysis to committees and members of both the House and Senate, has some answers for you. The truth is, former presidents and their first ladies fare pretty well after their terms.
You’ll no doubt be surprised to learn that nearly $3.5 million was appropriated for former presidents for fiscal year 2014, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. The Former Presidents Act requires the General Services Administration to provide former presidents a pension, support staff, office support, travel funds, and mailing privileges. The pension for a former president is equal to pay for Cabinet Secretaries, which was $199,700 last year (former first ladies also receive some benefits as well). Add to that amount income from speaking engagements, book deals, special appearances, and federal benefits such as travel funds, and you’re not doing too badly.
In addition, under the Presidential Transition Act, an outgoing president is eligible to receive seven months of “transition” services and facilities to assist his transition to life after the presidency. Former presidents and their spouses also receive lifetime Secret Service protection.
The report shows that recent former presidents exhibit the highest cost for federal benefits. For example, for fiscal year 2014 George W. Bush had the highest annual pension and benefit costs among the four living former presidents ($1,287,000). Former President Jimmy Carter drew the smallest pension and benefits ($470,000).
Why do they get these perks post presidency? Well, according to the Congressional Research Services, “The FPA was enacted to ‘maintain the dignity’ of the Office of the President. The act provides the former president—and his or her spouse—certain benefits to help him respond to post-presidency mail and speaking requests, among other informal public duties often required of a former president. Prior to enactment of the FPA in 1958, former presidents leaving office received no pension or other federal assistance.”