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Frequently Asked Questions
Home Service Transfer Allowance


QUESTIONS

1. Q: What is the Home Service Transfer Allowance (HSTA)?

2. Q: Who is eligible to receive the HSTA?

3. Q: What expenses are covered by the HSTA?

4. Q: How much HSTA is due me for a transfer?

5. Q: Under HSTA, how long can I stay in temporary lodging if I'm having trouble finding a place to live?

6. Q: How do I figure out what amount I should request in advance if my agency allows advances?

7. Q: How much is the miscellaneous expense portion of the HSTA?

8. Q: What is the limit for the miscellaneous expense portion of the HSTA if I keep receipts and itemize?

9. Q: What miscellaneous expenses are not allowable?

10. Q: Why can't I get the wardrobe expense portion when I transfer from a foreign post to the continental US or Hawaii?

11. Q: How do I estimate the subsistence expense portion?

12. Q: What is the fixed amount method?

13. Q: What is the lease penalty allowance?

14. Q: When is the HSTA subsistence expense portion terminated?

15. Q: How is the HSTA apportioned between married couple employees or domestic partnership employees?

16. Q: If an employee is receiving a Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA) how does this affect HSTA payments?

17. Q: An employee is transferring from a foreign post to the Department of State in Washington, D.C.. The employee wishes to travel directly to Washington , D.C. and begin house hunting rather than traveling to the home leave address in Iowa. Is the employee eligible for the subsistence expense portion of the HSTA?

18. Q: Must the employee's HSTA period consist of consecutive days at the new U.S. post of assignment or may it be "broken-up" by home leave, annual leave, etc.?

19. Q: What if I have to sign a 30-day lease for the temporary quarters in DC and during this time I take a week's annual leave in Florida? May I claim the full expense of the lease?

QUESTIONS:

1. Q: What is the Home Service Transfer Allowance (HSTA)?

A:  The HSTA is an allowance for "extraordinary, necessary, and reasonable expenses, not otherwise compensated for, incurred by an employee incident to establishing him/herself at a post of assignment in the United States"(DSSR 251.1a)..  

2. Q: Who is eligible to receive the HSTA?

A:  There are two situations when the Home Service Transfer Allowance may be paid.  Either the employee has been reassigned from a post in a foreign area to a post in the United States or the employee has died while serving at a post in a foreign area and the family members need to relocate back to the United States following the employee's death. 

An employee who has been reassigned from a post in a foreign area to a post in the United States may receive the HSTA, as long as the employee certifies that he/she will complete twelve months in U.S. Government service following the effective date of transfer (DSSR 251.1b). For Department of State employees, this declaration is made in item #18, "Remarks", of form SF 1190 (Foreign Allowance Application, Grant and Report, Rev. 07/2009).  Note:  Per DSSR 252.6 Prohibitions employees eligible under their agencies' regulations for either a subsistence expense allowance or a miscellaneous allowance authorized by 5 U.S.C. 5724a(c) or 5724a(f), respectively, (under the Federal Travel Regulation) are not eligible for the subsistence expense, the miscellaneous expense and the wardrobe expense portions of the home service transfer allowance authorized by the DSSR.

If an employee dies while assigned to a post in a foreign area, the HSTA may be paid to eligible family member(s) to relocate to the United States provided at the time of death, they (1) resided with the employee at his/her foreign post; or (2) were residing outside the United States at an agency-designated location for which they were receiving a Separate Maintenance Allowance under DSSR 260.  

3. Q: What expenses are covered by the HSTA?

A: The HSTA may defray four types of expenses: miscellaneous expenses, wardrobe expenses, subsistence expenses, and a lease penalty expense.  

4. Q: How much HSTA is due me for a transfer?

A: The amount of the allowance depends on: (1) whether or not you have eligible family members (EFMs)/dependents and (2) the length of your stay in temporary lodging.

The miscellaneous portion can either be a lump sum amount or itemized actual expenses up to limits.

The wardrobe expense allowance is not paid for transfer to the continental United States and Hawaii.  However, it may be paid for transfer to Alaska , the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands , the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. Pacific islands (See Question 10).  Note:  Not all agencies pay a wardrobe allowance; check agency implementing regulations. 

The subsistence amount is based on the number of EFMs/dependents and how long you are in temporary commercial lodging facilities (see Question 5).

The lease penalty portion may be granted when penalties are incurred if you are receiving a living quarters allowance at your foreign post and must "break" your residence lease owing to your transfer date.  Note:  lease penalty applies to only residence lease -- not car or cell phone leases.  

5. Q: Under HSTA, how long can I stay in temporary lodging if I'm having trouble finding a place to live?

A: The DSSR offers agencies two methods of reimbursement for their employees:  actual subsistence reimbursement and fixed rate reimbursement.  Note:  All agencies have not adopted both methods - they may offer actual; they may offer fixed in addition to actual.  Check with your agency to see if both methods are offered.  If both methods are offered then the employee chooses the reimbursement method which best suits the employee.  If an agency offers both methods of reimbursement, it will be stated in the agency's implementing regulations.  The State Department's implementing regulations are the Foreign Affairs Manual and Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAM/FAH, respectively).  As of June 2007, the State Department offers its employees only the actual subsistence reimbursement method. 

Under the actual subsistence method, the reimbursement maximum is calculated on the (1) CONUS (continental United States) rate if transferring to the continental U.S.; or (2) per diem of the applicable non-foreign area if transferring to a non-foreign area outside CONUS.  The time period is  for 30 days and may extend for another 30 days though the rate will be reduced (see Question 6). In cases of "compelling reasons beyond the control of the employee" the head of agency may grant an additional 60 days to be paid at the same reduced rate as the second 30-day period (DSSR 252.3).

Under the fixed rate reimbursement method, the maximum time period allowed is 30 days - no exceptions/no extensions and is always based on a percentage of the per diem of the U.S. post of assignment.  The agency can limit the days to less than 30. 

See DSSR 252.3a and DSSR 960 HSTA worksheet for more detailed explanations and calculations. 

6. Q: How do I figure out what amount I should request in advance if my agency allows advances?

A: Although the DSSR permits advances, agency implementing regulations (FAM/FAH for Foreign Affairs Agencies) can be more restrictive.  You can estimate the maximum amount you may receive using the HSTA worksheet provided in DSSR 960. You may also consult with your assignments officer or the Financial Management Officer at your foreign post. Generally you may request only the amount you are authorized for the first 30 days subsistence, the lump sum miscellaneous expense portion, the lease penalty portion (if applicable), and the wardrobe portion (if applicable).  As of 2007, the State Department is not authorizing its employees advance payment of the miscellaneous expense portion of this allowance. Further, State lately encourages its employees to use the Government travel credit card in lieu of applying for an advance of either of the two transfer allowances.

Actual Subsistence Reimbursement Method formula (always uses CONUS per diem rate if transferring to continental U.S.). If transferring to non-foreign outside continental U.S. location, per diem of that location should be substituted in the formula.  Reminder these are maximums.  Calculation is on the total per diem rate and not the individual components of the per diem rate.  Lodging receipts are required and a certified statement of daily meals, laundry and dry cleaning.  Under the Actual subsistence reimbursement method, lodging tax may be claimed in addition to these maximums.

First 30 days:
Employee CONUS rate x 100% 
Accompanied Spouse or Domestic Partner CONUS rate x 75% 
Family Members 12 and older CONUS rate x 75% 
Family Members under 12 CONUS rate x 50% 

Second 30 days:
Employee CONUS rate x 75% 
Accompanied Spouse or Domestic Partner CONUS rate x 50% 
Family Members 12 and older CONUS rate x 50% 
Family Members under 12 CONUS rate x 40%

Fixed Rate Reimbursement Method (agency can limit days to less than 30).  Calculation is always based on U.S. post of assignment per diem rate.  Calculation is on the total per diem rate and not the individual components of the per diem rate.  Receipts and itemization are not required.  Under the fixed rate reimbursement method, lodging tax may not be claimed in addition to these flat amounts.

Initial Occupant 75% per diem rate

Each additional occupant 25% per diem rate.  

7. Q: How much is the miscellaneous expense portion of the HSTA?

A:  The miscellaneous expense portion covers such expenses as disconnecting and connecting appliances, converting household appliances, cutting and fitting rugs, paying utility fees and automobile registration, and refitting personal automobiles for use in the U.S. The following amounts may be granted without receipts or itemizing (DSSR 252.1a): (a) for an employee without family - $650 or the equivalent of one week's salary, whichever is less; (b) for an employee with family - $1,300 or the equivalent of two weeks' salary, whichever is less. Alternately, the employee may itemize expenses and may be reimbursed as described in HSTA Q&A 8.

 

Please note that although the DSSR lists pet quarantine costs as an allowable expense, agency implementing regulations may be more restrictive.  As of April 2007, Foreign Affairs Agencies' regulations do not allow reimbursement for pet quarantine, however, do allow for transporting pets from the foreign post to the new U.S. post of assignment via the most direct route.

8. Q: What is the limit for the miscellaneous expense portion of the HSTA if I keep receipts and itemize?

A: You may be reimbursed for actual expenses if supported by receipts or acceptable evidence of allowable expenses with the following maximums: (a) for an employee without family an amount not to exceed one week's salary for the employee or one week's salary at the GS-13, step 10 level ( approximately $1,792 for calendar year 2011), whichever is less; (b) for an employee with family an amount not to exceed two weeks' salary for the employee or two weeks' salary at the GS-13, step 10 level (approximately $3,584 for calendar year 2011), whichever is less; DSSR 252.1b.

9. Q: What miscellaneous expenses are not allowable?

A: Miscellaneous expenses in conjunction with the transfer that are not reimbursed include: losses in selling and buying real and personal property, additional costs of moving household goods caused by exceeding the maximum weight limitations, costs of newly acquired items such as the purchase and installation costs of new rugs and draperies, damage or loss of clothing, luggage or other personal effects while traveling to the new post, costs incurred in connection with structural alterations, remodeling or modernizing of living quarters, garages or other buildings, to accommodate privately owned automobiles, appliances or equipment shipped to the new post. As noted in HSTA answer 7 above, State Department employees may not be reimbursed for pet quarantine costs. These and other expenses not covered under the miscellaneous expense provision are listed in DSSR 251.2a. 

10. Q: Why can't I get the wardrobe expense portion when I transfer from a foreign post to the continental US or Hawaii ?

A: To be eligible for the wardrobe expense portion the employee must transfer across "two climate zones." There are only three climate zones in the world, so a transfer from any foreign post in the world to the continental US or Hawaii (classified as zone 2) cannot be a "two zone" transfer (DSSR 252.2). 

Foreign posts' climate zones, are classified as 1 (average temperature "cold"); 2 (average temperature "moderate"); or 3 (average temperature "hot"), and are listed in DSSR 920, column number 4 entitled "transfer zone". The non-foreign area and continental U.S. transfer/climate zones are listed at DSSR 252.2. 

The continental US and Hawaii are classified as zone 2, so no transfer to these locations will be "two zones." However, transfer from a zone 3 foreign post to Alaska (zone 1) or transfer to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. Pacific island possessions (all zone 3) from a zone 1 foreign post might qualify the employee for a wardrobe allowance depending upon the employee's post of origin and agency.  Note:  see agency implementing regulations to see if agency pays this allowance.

11. Q: How do I estimate the subsistence expense portion?

A: The subsistence expense portion is designed to help offset costs of meals, laundry and dry cleaning, and lodging (per DSSR 251.2c). The amount of reimbursement may be calculated using the actual subsistence amounts described in Question 6 or, in some agencies, by using the fixed rate method described in DSSR 252.3 (also referred to as the 'flat rate' method in the worksheets DSSR 960).

 

Employees should check their agency's implementing regulations for allowable method(s) of reimbursement.  State Department's implementing regulations, the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) do not authorize the fixed amount method for its employees, therefore, only the actual subsistence method is prescribed. 

12. Q: What is the fixed amount method?

A: Although the actual expense reimbursement method is most frequently used in computing subsistence reimbursements, the head of the relevant agency may grant employees a fixed amount for subsistence expenses. Under the fixed amount method, the period of allowable reimbursement is limited to, and may be less than, 30 days, with no extensions permitted (DSSR 251.2c(2)).

 

Please note that the State Department has not yet approved reimbursement via the fixed amount method for its employees. 

13. Q:  What is the lease penalty allowance?

A:  The lease penalty expense portion is designed to assist employees receiving the living quarters allowance at the foreign post to defray the expense of unavoidable lease penalties for the early termination of a residential lease due to transfer required by a federal agency (DSSR 251.2d). The amount of reimbursement shall not exceed the amount required by the specific terms of a rental contract signed by the employee as a prior condition of obtaining the lease for quarters at the foreign post, or the equivalent of three months' rent, whichever is less. This reimbursement may be made only after the appropriate official of the relevant agency attests to the necessity for breaking the lease. The conditions for such authorization are set forth in DSSR 252.4.

Please note that this lease penalty allowance applies to quarters leased at the employee's foreign post, not for housing rented in the US.  Also, it does not pertain to car or cell phone leases. 

14. Q: When is the HSTA subsistence expense portion terminated?

A:  Reimbursement for allowable HSTA subsistence expenses terminates on the earliest of the following dates: (1) the date the employee or any family member occupies permanent residence quarters; (2) the date the employee departs from the U.S. post on transfer, or the effective date of transfer when the employee is absent from the U.S. post at the time the transfer order is issued and does not return to the U.S. post before proceeding to his/her new foreign post; or (3) the date of the employee's separation from government service (DSSR 252.3b).

 

Please note that non-residential quarters are defined as "hotel, pension, or other transient-type quarters." Houses or apartments are assumed to be a residential quarters because "a house or apartment may not be designated as 'non-residential' or 'temporary' unless the head of the agency determines that it is or was occupied on a temporary basis." (DSSR 251.2c).

HSTA subsistence payments are not authorized during any time in which the employee is receiving authorized travel per diem, except as stated at DSSR 252.3d.  

15. Q: How is the HSTA apportioned between married couple employees or domestic partnership employees?

A:  HSTA payments for married couple employees or domestic partnership employees are apportioned as follows:
The miscellaneous expense portion "with family" rate may be granted to either eligible employee (both civilian employees of the U.S. Government) or each may be granted the employee "without family" rate. If there are additional members of the family, one employee may be granted the "with family" rate and the other the "without family" rate. However, for grants above the non-receipt amounts, both employees may not claim the same expenditures.

 

For the wardrobe portion (if applicable, see question #10), each employee may be granted the "without family" rate. With additional eligible family members present at post, one employee may receive a "with family" rate and the other may be granted the "without family" rate.

For the subsistence expense portion, each employee may be granted the "initial occupant" rate. One of the employees may be granted the appropriate reimbursement for any additional family members (excluding spouse or domestic partner). Alternatively, the employees may agree to consider one spouse or domestic partner as a family member only.

For the lease penalty expense portion, only one or the employees at the same post may be reimbursed for an unavoidable lease penalty described in DSSR 252.4. Further information can also be found in DSSR 252.7.  

16. Q: If an employee is receiving a Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA) how does this affect HSTA payments?

A:  Family members who were on SMA while the employee was serving in a foreign area may not be counted as family members for HSTA payments unless official transportation was authorized permitting those family members to join the employee at the new post of assignment in the U.S. (DSSR 252.8).

17. Q: An employee is transferring from a foreign post to the Department of State in Washington, D.C.. The employee wishes to travel directly to Washington , D.C. and begin house hunting rather than traveling to the home leave address in Iowa. Is the employee eligible for the subsistence expense portion of the HSTA?

A:  Yes, the employee is eligible for the subsistence expense portion of the HSTA whether in annual leave, home leave, or temporary duty status provided the employee incurs these allowable expenses at the new post of assignment (DSSR 252.3a). The employee must request the HSTA by completing form SF-1190 that includes the certification that the employee agrees to complete 12 months in United States government service following the effective date of the transfer (DSSR 252.5b).  

18. Q: Must the employee's HSTA period consist of consecutive days at the new U.S. post of assignment or may it be "broken-up" by home leave, annual leave, etc.?

A:  The HSTA payment period need not consist of consecutive days, but may be broken by periods of annual leave, home leave, or temporary duty (DSSR 252.3). The employee may be on annual leave, home leave or temporary duty and may still be granted HSTA payments provided these allowable expenses are incurred at the employee's new post of assignment.

 

For example, an employee travels from his/her home leave address in Iowa to Washington, DC, before starting work in his/her new office in order to "house hunt." The employee may receive HSTA subsistence payments while in D.C. on home leave. Please note that there is no requirement that the family members join the employee at the post of assignment during the "house hunting" trip. However these HSTA payments would be suspended if employee travels outside the Washington DC area because expenses are no longer being incurred at the new post of assignment. 

19. Q: What if I have to sign a 30-day lease for the temporary quarters in DC and during this time I take a week's annual leave in Florida ? May I claim the full expense of the lease?

A: No. The lodging costs in Washington for the days you were in Florida are not reimbursable because you were away from the new post of assignment. DSSR 252.3a explains that the days of subsistence "need not run consecutively and may be broken by periods of annual leave, home leave, or temporary duty." But annual or home leave days must be spent at the post of assignment for subsistence expenses to be reimbursed for those days.

For temporary duty away from the new U.S. post of assignment, it is different. DSSR 252.3d provides that subsistence expenses at that new post may be payable during the period of temporary duty.