AFSA Retiree Newsletter - December 2018

In this issue you will find:

  1. Upcoming Events of Interest
  2. Updated Retiree Benefits Information
  3. Tax Tip for Active-Duty Employees
  4. FSPS Annuity Supplement
  5. Great Decisions Program Highlights Diplomacy and the Foreign Service
  6. Remember the Foreign Service in Your Year-End Giving
  7. Just in Time for the Holidays
  8. The AFSA Retiree Directory Is Almost Here…
  9. Understanding Your Social Security Benefits
  10. Networking Opportunity for Current and Prospective Teachers of International Relations
  11. Consider Becoming a Mentor
  12. Contacting AFSA

Upcoming Events of Interest

Following our November 6 program on Social Security, we are pleased to announce that our next two federal benefits events will take place in early 2019.

  • On January 22, AFSA retiree vice president John Naland will again offer his informative presentation, “Retirement Planning 5 to 10 Years Out.” This is tailored to our active-duty members who are nearing retirement. This event will take place at AFSA HQ, 2101 E Street, from 12:00-1:30 p.m. Click here to register.
  • Then, on February 5, Naland will conduct a webinar for our retiree members, focused on “Reviewing Your Retirement Plan,” focused on encouraging members to take a look at their current retirement plan and ask whether changes or updates are needed. A separate invitation will be sent in early 2019.
  • Finally, AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson will host another webinar for our retired members on February 27. Stay tuned for additional information on this event.
 

Updated Retiree Benefits Information

The 2019 Foreign Service Annual Annuitant Newsletter published by State Department’s Office of Retirement is now posted on the AFSA website, as we do every year. You will find it at www.afsa.org/retiree under the “From the State Department” heading. The 32-page newsletter includes information on the annual Cost of Living Adjustment, instructions for logging on to Annuitant Express to view your annuity statements, and an explanation of how your annuity is taxed. It also includes instructions on how to report post-retirement marriage or divorce and instructions on how your next-of-kin can apply for survivors’ benefits. There is information about the Re-Employed Annuitant (formerly WAE) program and the Combined Federal Campaign.

AFSA’s 2019 Directory of Retired Members will be mailed shortly. In addition to a state-by-state listing of AFSA retiree members and contact information for local Foreign Service retiree associations, the nearly 200-page directory contains an “AFSA Resources” section with information to answer your questions on Medicare, FEHB, Social Security, TSP, FSPS annuity supplement, beneficiary designations, survivor benefits, former spouse benefits, REA/WAE employment, and other issues. It also lists contact information for State Department offices that serve Foreign Service annuitants from all agencies.

 

Tax Tip for Active-Duty Employees

As tax time approaches, you may see press reports saying that, under the 2017 tax reform law, employer-paid moving expenses (such as shipping household goods to a new duty station) are now treated as a taxable benefit. That is accurate for most taxpayers, but the new law does not apply to moving expenses paid by a federal agency for travel or transportation that is authorized under the Foreign Service Act—including Permanent Change of Station, R&R, medevac, and emergency visitation travel.

The Department of State’s finance office will not report such expenses as income on end-of-year W-2s and employees do not need to pay taxes on them. However, unreimbursed moving expenses, which were deductible under “miscellaneous expenses” in prior years, are no longer deductible. For details, see the April 2018 Foreign Service Journal, pages 78-81.

 

FSPS Annuity Supplement

The FSPS Annuity Supplement is subject to reduction in 2019 if a retiree had wage income in 2018 exceeding $17,040. This earnings test begins when a retiree reaches their Minimum Retirement Age (55 to 57 depending on year of birth) and continues to age 62 when the supplement is automatically terminated. If you are a retiree in that age range, you must submit an earnings report to the State Department by January 7, 2019 (even if you had no wage earnings) or State will suspend payment of your supplement on February 1.

Each year, several hundred retirees have their supplement suspended for failing to submit an earnings report. While State will reinstate payments following a late submission of the earnings report, doing so takes staff time away from helping retirees with other questions or concerns. For full details and the required form, see pages 10-13 of the 2019 Foreign Service Annual Annuitant Newsletter published by Office of Retirement online at www.afsa.org/retiree under the “From the State Department” heading.

 

Great Decisions Program Highlights Diplomacy and the Foreign Service

You may be familiar with the Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions program either having participated in discussion groups or perhaps been invited to speak as an expert on one of the eight discussion topics included in the curriculum each year. This year, the 2019 Great Decisions program includes the topic, State of the State Department and Diplomacy, with retired Ambassador Nick Burns contributing the essay and video which guides the discussion. With Great Decisions programs being held all over the country as a part of large and small community events and incorporated into college courses, AFSA sees a timely and welcomed opportunity to amplify our outreach mission -- to develop a domestic constituency for diplomacy and development through telling the story of the Foreign Service.

AFSA President Barbara Stephenson has been invited to kick-off the Great Decision program on this topic at the World Affairs Councils in Grand Rapids, Mich. and Portland, Ore. and AFSA is busy fielding requests from organizations interested in a speaker. Additionally, AFSA has developed a resource packet available for those who have been invited to speak on this topic.

We aim to make the most of this opportunity and we invite you to participate! Here’s how:

  • If you have been invited to speak on the State of the State Department as a part of the 2019 Great Decisions program, or facilitate the discussion, please let AFSA know. This will help provide insight into the geographic reach of AFSA members contributing to the discussion.
  • Request the resource packet AFSA has prepared on this topic which outlines the recent challenges to the Foreign Service as well as the opportunities moving forward and helps to illustrate the connection between a strong Foreign Service workforce and prosperity at home.
  • If you know of a group looking for a speaker for the Great Decisions program, please direct them to the AFSA’s Speakers Bureau.
  • If you are aware of a Great Decisions group in your community, consider participating to lend your voice to the discussion.

For more information or to get involved, please contact Christine Miele, Manager of Retiree Outreach and Engagement, at miele@afsa.org.

 

Remember the Foreign Service in Your Year-End Giving

As you consider your year-end giving, there are many ways to support the Foreign Service, such as making a donation to AFSA’s Fund for American Diplomacy (FAD), which helps AFSA expand its reach as it works diligently to tell the proud story of the Foreign Service to the American people. The FAD’s aim is to build a domestic constituency for the Foreign Service so that we have supporters prepared to stand up for the Foreign Service and defend our vitally important mission. Information can be found at www.afsa.org/fad. The FAD is also in the Combined Federal Campaign under #10646, Diplomacy Matters-AFSA. Of course, there are other worthy Foreign Service-related charities, including the Senior Living Foundation of the Foreign Service and the FSN Emergency Relief Fund.

 

Just in Time for the Holidays

As regular readers can attest, a subscription to The Foreign Service Journal offers an insider’s perspective on foreign affairs with thought-provoking articles on international issues, the practice of diplomacy and the U.S. Foreign Service. As you consider your holiday gift-giving, you might consider a subscription for college-age children or grandchildren who are interested in a career in international affairs. The Journal, an indispensable resource for anyone with an interest in diplomacy and development, will help them not only develop more practical understanding of the Foreign Service, but also better illuminate the varied career opportunities available.

Alternatively, as a part of your local outreach efforts, consider gifting a subscription to your alma mater, community college, or high school library. Reading the Journal not only helps to build a constituency across the U.S. for the Foreign Service but can also inspire students to consider an international career. Additionally, the Journal offers real-world examples of the practice of diplomacy and as such is a helpful research tool. Perhaps you’re still active duty and would welcome a new way to explain the full reach of the Foreign Service to parents or other close relatives who are curious about your career but don’t know the right questions to ask. Sign them up for a gift subscription of The Foreign Service Journal, published 10 times a year, and prepare yourself for the conversations and questions that come via Skype calls or during home leave and holidays visits. For more information or to subscribe, visit afsa.org/fsj-subscribe.

 

The AFSA Retiree Directory Is Almost Here…

We estimate that the 2019 Retiree Directory will be mailed out later this month. Please take a careful look at it when you receive it. We have expanded the information pages to include information about outreach opportunities and initiatives specific to retirees.

 

Understanding Your Social Security Benefits

Those who did not have the opportunity to attend Ed Zurndorfer’s November 6 expert presentation on Social Security benefits can now access a full recording of his remarks and his PowerPoint presentation on the AFSA website at www.afsa.org/retiree. The aim of the presentation is to help members develop the best Social Security strategy for themselves and their families.

 

Networking Opportunity for Current and Prospective Teachers of International Relations

Jillian Burns, a retired Foreign Service officer whose positions included Principal Officer of U.S. Consulate Herat (during the Taliban attack in 2013) and Office Director of the Near East Affairs office in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL/NEA), sent the announcement below for AFSA to disseminate to its membership. Now an adjunct instructor of foreign policy courses at The George Washington University (GWU), Jillian established a LinkedIn site to share ideas on the teaching of topics related to international relations. A number of retired members of the Foreign Service whose “next stage” career includes teaching have relayed that it is a labor-intensive jump, one that could be made more effectively through this kind of networking initiative. Here’s Jillian’s information:

“For any foreign policy practitioners who are now teaching on topics related to international relations or are considering doing so, I've just set up a LinkedIn site called Foreign Policy Practitioners - Educators Network. It is intended as a platform to share ideas on designing classes, teaching practical skills, exchanging best practices, sharing resources, etc. Please contact me through LinkedIn if you would be interested in joining. I welcome any ideas on how to develop resources for people making this transition to education.”

 

Consider Becoming a Mentor

Do you remember the best piece of advice you received in your career? Or perhaps you remember what you wish you knew or steps you wish you had taken? We invite you to share your insight and knowledge by becoming a mentor to students and recent graduates of international affairs programs. AFSA is teaming up with the Delta Phi Epsilon Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) to create a pilot mentoring program to match students and recent graduates from six universities with seasoned professionals. Mentors will serve as a source of institutional history and provide valuable insight into the lives and careers of professional diplomats while helping mentees identify key skills and opportunities for advancing their interest in the foreign policy process.

Mentors and mentees will be paired in one-to-one relationships based on the mentee’s goals for the program, and/or mentor and mentee functional or regional specialties and interests. Mentoring pairs are encouraged to meet monthly starting in January through June 2019 either in person or remotely via phone or video calls. While AFSA and FAC have developed general guidelines for the program, including a list of possible activities mentors might suggest to mentees, the program is designed to allow each mentoring pair to determine their own program, guided largely by the professional goals and interests of the mentee. Simply put, the mentor serves as a resource to help students and recent graduates better define and fulfill their short- and long-term career goals.

Due to the number of interested students, we are in search of more mentors to participate. If you would be interested in becoming a mentor or would like additional information, please contact Retiree Outreach and Engagement Manager Christine Miele at miele@afsa.org.

 

Contacting AFSA

We are here to help and love hearing from members. For assistance with retirement benefits and related issues, contact Retirement Benefits Counselor Dolores Brown at (202) 944-5510 or brown@afsa.org. For questions about outreach, retiree associations and our speakers bureau, contact Manager of Retiree Outreach and Engagement Christine Miele at (202) 944-5517 or miele@afsa.org. For address updates and obituary notifications, please contact Member Accounts Specialist Ashley Dunn at (202) 338-4045 x525 or dunn@afsa.org. AFSA Retiree Vice President John Naland is available at naland@afsa.org.

Finally, a heartfelt wish for Happy Holidays to our Foreign Service family from all of us at AFSA!