The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2018 67 AFSA NEWS AHousing Victory in Rio In September 2016, Foreign Service officers assigned to Rio de Janeiro began con- tacting AFSA regarding the denial of their Temporary Quarters Subsistence Allow- ance. Several officers were placed in temporary quarters between 2016 and 2017 until their permanent housing was made available. That sounds normal, right? It is not uncommon for FSOs to spend time in temporary quarters until housing is ready; however, there is an expectation that certain ame- nities will be available, and in these cases, they were not. Based on the information we received, AFSA filed a cohort grievance on behalf of the affected members on April 4, 2017. The Department of State Standard Regulations 122.1 defines the purpose of TQSA as “intended to assist in covering the average cost of adequate but not elaborate or unnecessarily expensive accommodations in a hotel, pension or other transient- type quarters at the post of assignment, plus reasonable meal and laundry expenses for a period not in excess of 90 days after first arrival at a new post of assignment in a foreign area, immediately preceding final departure from the post following neces- sary vacating of residence quarters.” Rather than paying TQSA, the department may choose to “provide temporary quarters directly, to limit the number of days TQSAmay be paid to fewer than the maximum number of days, and/or not to pay any TQSA if quarters with cooking facili- ties are provided.” The temporary accom- modations provided for these employees did not include a welcome kit, an oven, clean drinking water, free washing services (each load cost $10) or a freezer. All of these items are included in permanent quarters offered by post. The hotel room did have two elec- tric burners, minimal cutlery/ plates/pots, a shallow mini fridge, a sink (without hot water) and a microwave. In other words, the tem- porary quarters did not meet the standards set forth in the DSSR for providing tempo- rary quarters in lieu of TQSA. Employees of other govern- ment agencies who were housed in the same hotel were receiving TQSA due to the lack of proper amenities. The management team in Brasilia, which originally gave guidance to deny TQSA, cited “sufficient kitchen facilities,” but we discovered that their decision had been made with- out adequately vetting the location and its services. This seemingly random decision led to thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses for the FSOs. Shortly after filing the ini- tial complaint, AFSA received additional information from the AFSA post representa- tive in Rio, Chris Breding, outlining his support for TQSA. Mr. Breding worked with the cohort and met with management to seek an equitable solution. Thanks to some fresh eyes on the issue within the management sec- tion, and with support from the consul general, TQSA was retroactively approved. AFSA agreed to withdraw the cohort grievance once we had confirmation that all monies were paid. We would like to extend our thanks to the FS mem- bers who brought this issue to AFSA’s attention. We rely heavily on our post represen- tatives to be our eyes and ears on the ground, and this situation is an example of how AFSA effectively engages on issues in the field. We encourage all of you to get to know your post repre- sentatives. The global list can be found at http://www.afsa. org/postreps. If the spot is vacant, consider volunteering to support your colleagues at post. n —Jason Snyder, AFSA Grievance Counselor Corrections to 2017 Tax Guide The 2017 AFSA Tax Guide in the January-February Journal erroneously stated that the District of Columbia allows a pension or annu- ity exclusion of $3,000 for taxpayers aged 62 years or older. This exclusion is no longer available since DC Code Section 47-1803.02(N) limits the $3,000 deduc- tion for pension/annuities to years before Jan. 1, 2015. AFSA regrets the error. Also, according to the N.Y. Tax Bureau Advisory opinion TSB-A-15(6)I Income Tax of July 15, 2015, distribu- tions that are attributable to contributions made by an FSPS or FERS partici- pant and the department to a TSP account while the participant was a federal employee, including the accumulated earnings from those contributions, will be exempt from New York state income tax if the amounts are included in the par- ticipant’s federal adjusted gross income (FAGI). Only distributions from an IRA account or from a TSP established by an FSRDS or CSRS participant are subject to the exclusion cap of $20,000. n