Penn State moving to per diem for employees traveling on University business

New business travel policy will end need to retain receipts for meal reimbursements

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — All Penn State employees traveling on University business will be reimbursed for meals through per diem, or travel allowance, effective July 1.

Until now, individual units had the option of offering either the per diem travel allowance per University policy or a reimbursement of actual costs up to per diem to traveling employees.

The move to per diem uniformly across the University dispenses with the need for employees to submit receipts for meals in favor of receiving a fixed amount allocated for meals.

“The idea is to improve administrative efficiency,” explained Joseph Doncsecz, associate vice president for finance and corporate controller. Although it may save a few dollars to reimburse for actual meal expenses, he said the time devoted to collecting and reconciling receipts isn’t worth the effort.

Assistant Controller Deborah Meder added, “Looking at the savings in direct meal costs versus the indirect costs of administrative time for the staff, the faculty, everybody who’s traveling to bring back those receipts, and then spending the time double checking the receipts, we were spending more in staff time than we were saving in actual costs.”

In early 2013, the University surveyed 5,129 Penn State employees who had used the Employee Reimbursement System, including processors, delegates and travelers, for their opinions of the meal per diem policy. Doncsecz said more than 1,500 responded to the survey.

He said the employee responses showed frustration with inconsistencies in meal reimbursement policy across the University.

“It was creating ill will among the faculty and administrative staff,” Doncsecz said. “It was the policy that was causing pushback.”

Moving to a per diem policy will help to streamline matters, he said. “We just want to cut down on the waste of administrative resources chasing down such a small amount of money. It causes confusion and it uses administrative effort at a time when staffers are as stretched as you can get.”

Doncsecz said the University’s per diem rates and policies will mirror those of U.S. government employees. In addition, the ability for travelers to take a voluntary reimbursement reduction to adjust to actual meals will continue to be encouraged.

As part of the alignment with government policies, employees on official travel will be reimbursed 75 percent of daily per diem on their first and last day of travel of multi-day trips. For employees traveling on University business for a single day, the 75 percent daily per diem will also be applied.

Per IRS regulations, the single day meal per diem will also continue to be taxable income to the employee.

"Ultimately, the policies are being made to balance stewardship of our financial resources and the efficiency of our travel reimbursement process,” Doncsecz said. “We hope these changes will clarify and streamline the rules related to individual meals while on travel status.”

Employees with questions regarding the new policy should direct their queries to their unit's financial officer.

Last Updated March 24, 2015