How big will Conyers’ pension be?

Melissa Nann Burke Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., who resigned this week amid sexual harassment allegations, leaves Congress after nearly 53 years likely qualifying for an initial pension of $125,500 a year.

The estimate from the National Taxpayers Union assumes the Detroit Democrat – who was the current longest-serving member of the U.S. House – joined the Civil Service Retirement System when he first entered Congress in 1965 and stayed in the system.

“Most do join. I mean, the benefit is great. Why wouldn’t you?” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union.

Conyers, 88, on Tuesday became the first lawmaker on Capitol Hill to step down amid allegations of sexual harassment. He has denied the accusations of former aides and endorsed his 27-year-old son, John Conyers III, to succeed him.

The former congressman still has not submitted his retirement paperwork to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Norm Ornstein, an expert in congressional ethics, said that because Conyers hasn’t been charged with any crime, he is expected to keep his pension.

Members of Congress can have their pension taken away if they are convicted of certain federal felonies, primarily those related to public corruption.

Like those for other federal employees, congressional pensions are partially financed through employee contributions.

The amount of a congressional pension depends on the lawmaker’s years of service and the average of his or her’s three highest years of salary.

Under the pension formula most likely to cover Conyers, the first year of his benefit may not exceed 80 percent of his final annual salary of $174,000. Lawmakers usually reach the cap after 32 years of service, Sepp said.

The pension calculation from the National Taxpayers Union assumes that Conyers’ pension is reduced while he is alive, so his wife, Monica Conyers, may collect benefits after his death – a standard feature, Sepp said.

In retirement, Conyers also qualifies for continuing to purchase health insurance for himself and Monica through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, as well as Medicare coverage.

As a federal lawmaker, Conyers may also have paid into the Thrift Savings Plan, which is a tax-deferred investment plan similar to a 401(k) retirement savings plan.

While his seat remains vacant, Conyers’ former offices will continue to operate and serve constituents.

“I’ll be working with the office and staying in touch with them on constituency services,” said Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the Democratic Party for the 13th District.

Jonathan Oosting contributed.