The Foreign Service Journal, March 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2020 69 AFSA NEWS Updates to the 2019 AFSA Tax Guide On Dec. 20, shortly after the 2019 AFSATax Guide (January-February FSJ ) went to press, President Trump signed H.R. 1865, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, into law. While most of its provisions become effective in tax year 2020, a few of them may impact some taxpayers for the 2019 tax season. The section of the AFSA Tax Guide titled “Medical and Dental: Deduct for Expenses Over 10 Percent of AGI” (p. 70) has changed. In 2019 and 2020, taxpayers may deduct medical and dental expenses to the extent they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. The new provision is set to expire in 2021, at which point that floor will revert back to 10 percent in the absence of additional legislation. The legislation also extends several expired tax provisions. For example, it allows taxpayers to exclude the discharge of indebted- ness from a qualified principal residence, which had been discontinued as of Jan. 1, 2018. The new law allows a taxpayer to exclude any such gain until Jan. 1, 2021, retro- actively reviving this provision from 2018 through 2020. The bill also provides tax relief for individuals whose principal place of abode was in a presidentially declared disaster area during the incident period of a qualified disaster from Jan. 1, 2018, through Feb. 18, 2020. In relevant part, it permits those who qual- ify to take IRC Sec. 72(t) withdrawals of up to $100,000 per qualify- ing disaster that affects them from certain retirement plans, among other disaster- related benefits. AFSA recommends IRS Publication 547 “Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts” and associated IRS product pages to members who believe they may qualify for some disas- ter-related tax relief. n AFSAGoverning Board Meeting, Jan. 15, 2020 Legal Defense Fund: The Governing Board ratified deci- sions by the Legal Defense Fund Committee to pay $26,000 for legal expenses incurred by one member, and to accept donations to the fund of $5,500 and $10,000. n AFSAGoverning Board Meeting, Dec. 18, 2019 Legal Defense Fund: The Governing Board ratified deci- sions by the Legal Defense Fund Committee to accept a $100,000 donation and a $10,000 donation, and to expend funds for two members who testified during the impeach- ment hearings. n as long as they are not wear- ing a uniform or anything identifying their position as a federal employee; • work as campaign vol- unteers, distribute campaign literature/organize campaign events/speak on behalf of a candidate; • campaign for or against referendum questions, con- stitutional amendments or municipal ordinances; or • be a candidate in a non- partisan election. While overseas, Foreign Service employees are sub- ject to prohibitions under the Foreign Affairs Manual that would not necessarily apply to them if they were in the United States. Specifically, 3 FAM 4123.3 prohibits U.S. citizen employees and their family members from engag- ing in partisan political activi- ties (related to U.S. elections) while serving abroad. This prohibition includes putting up yard signs or bum- per stickers supporting a par- ticular political candidate/ party/group or attending campaign rallies or fundrais- ers. As a general rule, any activity that would appear to a foreign observer to be obviously partisan should be avoided. You can find a copy of the PowerPoint presentation Ms. Galindo-Marrone shared dur- ing the presentation, as well as other Hatch Act guidance, at n