In his Pulitzer-Prize winning biography of the 33rd President of the United States Harry Truman, author David McCullough wrote that upon his retirement, Truman left the White House unprotected by the Secret Service and with no support from the federal government besides an army pension of $112.56. He and his wife Bess had put aside part of his $100,000 a year salary in government bonds, but McCullough said it was in all probability a modest amount. Truman was known to have taken out a loan in his last weeks as president. He had numerous opportunities to leverage his position as a former president, but unlike those who followed him, he refused them all and said, "I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency." (See also, 5 Poorest U.S. Presidents.)

The financial difficulties Truman faced prompted the passage of the Former President's Act in 1958. The Act authorized the General Services Administration to provide former presidents with a pension, support staff, office space, and travel funds. They also receive a lifetime of Secret Service protection and their children remain protected until they are 16 years old.The pension for former presidents matches the annual pay for senior political officials of the Executive Level 1 ranking. Obama will receive a pension worth $207,800. Widows of ex-presidents are entitled to $20,000 a year.

Last year, the federal government spent a total of $3.25 million on the four former presidents still living. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, George W. Bush alone accounted for $1 million of this. (Nancy Reagan, spouse of President Ronald Reagan who died in March 2016, waived her pension and only availed of franking or mailing privileges.)


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