A new state law will take effect Jan. 1, 2021, requiring state agencies, including the University of Nebraska, to reimburse meals on a “per diem” basis while employees are traveling for business.
The law, LB 381, directs the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to establish a percentage of the federal per diem rate for Nebraska agencies. DAS has announced that per-diem reimbursements for Nebraska travelers may not exceed 70 percent of the federal rate for the city to which the employee is traveling.
Beginning Jan. 1, employees will no longer need to submit itemized receipts for meal reimbursements. Exceptions may include employees on grant-sponsored travel, who may still need to submit receipts in accordance with the requirements of the sponsor. Employees on grant-sponsored travel should connect with their campus office of sponsored programs to determine whether receipts will be needed for meal reimbursement.
A Q&A follows.
Beginning Jan. 1, do I need to do anything differently when completing a travel expense report in Concur?
No, the process of completing a travel expense report in Concur will not change. You’ll still need to identify meals provided by other parties (a hotel, a conference, a non-university business colleague, etc.), but you will no longer need to submit itemized meal receipts. Exceptions are employees on grant-sponsored travel whose sponsors may require documentation for meal reimbursements.
How was the 70 percent rate determined for meal reimbursements?
In accordance with state law, the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services conducted a fiscal analysis and determined that reimbursing meals at 70 percent of the federal per diem rate was appropriate. At that rate, the new law is intended to be budget-neutral for the state.
I’m traveling on a grant-sponsored trip. Does the new law mean I can be reimbursed without submitting receipts?
Your grant sponsor may still require itemized meal receipts in order for you to be reimbursed at 70 percent of the federal rate. Check with your campus office of sponsored programs or your department’s grant liaison to determine whether you’ll need to provide receipts in order to be reimbursed.
Is there a new per diem rate for lodging as well as meals?
No, the per diem law only applies to meals. The University of Nebraska does not have a cap for lodging rate reimbursements. However, employees are expected to be good stewards of university resources and to choose reasonably priced lodging when they are traveling on business.
Can I pay for a colleague’s meal while traveling and be reimbursed?
No. If you’re traveling with colleagues, each individual will need to pay for their own meals and submit their own expense reports in order to be reimbursed.
What about paying for group meals during official functions, like meals with visiting faculty or guest speakers, recruitment meals or receptions for faculty or staff, or meals during retreats or training sessions? Can I pay for those with my personal credit card and be reimbursed?
No, all meals during designated “official functions” will require the use of a department purchasing card (P card) for reimbursement. Campus procurement and accounts payable teams are finalizing a process for payment and reimbursement of group meals and will share more information soon.
Will I be reimbursed separately for meal taxes and gratuity?
No, the federal reimbursement rate incorporates taxes and tips. Travelers will not be reimbursed separately for those costs.
Will I still need to report my departure and return times when completing a travel report in Concur?
Yes, start and end times for each expense report will still be required.
Does the per diem model apply to guests and contractors of the University of Nebraska?
Yes. The new law applies to everyone doing business on behalf of the university.
Does the per diem model apply for trips to Alaska, Hawaii and foreign destinations?
Yes. Per diem applies to all travel, including beyond the continental United States.
How do I handle an expense report for a business trip that will start in 2020 and end in 2021?
If you have one trip that begins in calendar year 2020 and ends in 2021, you’ll need to create two expense reports in Concur: One for your travel in 2020, using itemized meal receipts; and a second report for your travel in 2021, without meal receipts.
What city is used to determine the per diem rate at which I can be reimbursed? Where can I find information on the federal rate for the city to which I’m traveling?
You’ll be reimbursed at 70 percent of the federal rate for the city that is your final destination. You can find detailed information on the federal rates in U.S. cities on the U.S. General Services Administration website here.
I have other questions. Who can I contact?
Faculty and staff are invited to contact the University of Nebraska system’s travel office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 554-3456 with questions.
Employees may sign up for the NU system’s travel listserv to receive up-to-date travel information here.