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Frequently Asked Questions
INVOLUNTARY SEPARATE MAINTENANCE ALLOWANCE (ISMA)

Questions:
Q1. If families are separated for the convenience of the government, why are all of our housing expenses not covered like they would be at post?

Q2. If the post allows only spouses or domestic partners (or spouses or domestic partners and children under 5), but a spouse or domestic partner cannot go because there are children (or older children), is the employee then eligible for ISMA?

Q3. If an evacuation runs 180 days and the post then goes to unaccompanied status, Transitional SMA (TSMA) kicks in. How does the new rate affect ISMA?

Q4. If a family member fails to get a medical clearance, is the employee eligible for involuntary SMA? Is there a reporting requirement with regard to the medical condition? Do you have to continue to demonstrate the medical need for ISMA? If there is no longer justification for a medical ISMA, would the EFM still be eligible for voluntary SMA?

Q5. I am assigned to an accompanied post and my family members are with me. Unfortunately, one of my EFMs has developed a medical condition and the Regional Medical Officer has stated that he cannot remain at post with me. He will return to the United States to get medical treatment for the remainder of my tour. May I put him on SMA? What type of SMA could he receive - voluntary or involuntary?

Q6. What support is available to families on involuntary separation?

Q7. How does ISMA relate to travel of separated families?

Q8. There are no English-language schools at my post of assignment, and no "adequate" schools as determined by the Office of Overseas Schools because the one school just closed its doors. Do I qualify to receive ISMA for my spouse or domestic partner and school-age children to live elsewhere?

Q1. If families are separated for the convenience of the government, why are all of our housing expenses not covered like they would be at post?

A: The purpose of both Voluntary and Involuntary Separate Maintenance Allowances is to help defray the additional expenses associated with maintaining family members elsewhere than at post. The allowances are not meant to fully cover a family's expenses. The rates for Involuntary SMA are based on data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the average cost of maintaining a household in the continental United States. The costs include average rent, utilities, miscellaneous furnishings and supplies. Because individual circumstances vary and most people do not live in the "average" area in CONUS, the rates may not fully cover each family's costs.

Q2. If the post allows only spouses or domestic partners (or spouses or domestic partners and children under 5), but a spouse or domestic partner cannot go because there are children (or older children), is the employee then eligible for ISMA?

A. In addition to fully unaccompanied status, the Department of State has added the category of "partially unaccompanied" posts, i.e. Only adult EFMs, or adult EFMs and small children, are permitted. Children under the age of 21 not permitted at an unaccompanied post are eligible to receive ISMA. A parent or step-parent remaining at the separate household to care for children not allowed at post is also eligible for ISMA. Questions on unusual circumstances should be sent to the Director of the Office of Allowances at Allowanceso@state.gov.

Q3. If an evacuation runs 180 days and the post then goes to unaccompanied status, Transitional SMA (TSMA) kicks in. How does the new rate affect ISMA?

A. The purpose of TSMA after an evacuation and conversion of post to unaccompanied status is to allow family members in commercial quarters time to establish themselves in permanent housing. TSMA is only available for family members occupying commercial quarters (for a definition of commercial quarters, see DSSR 262.3a). TSMA for this purpose is available for up to 60 calendar days. In rare cases it may be extended for an additional 30 days, not to exceed 90 days. TSMA is listed as a daily rate and varies by length of time and family size. DSSR 267.1b contains the rate schedule for TSMA. ISMA is intended to help defray the expenses of maintaining a separate household in non-commercial quarters when family members cannot accompany an employee to post. ISMA rates vary by family size and are listed as a yearly amount (DSSR 267.1a). That amount can be prorated to a daily amount (see DSSR 267.3).

Because ISMA is not intended to help maintain a family in commercial quarters, the rates are significantly less than TSMA. If family members are occupying commercial quarters when an evacuation terminates and a post becomes unaccompanied, they should apply for TSMA. Once they meet the criteria in DSSR 266.4, such as occupying non-commercial quarters or delivery of the complete HHE shipment, then the family should convert to ISMA. The employee will need to complete a new SF-1190 for the family members when they move from TSMA to ISMA.

Q4. If a family member fails to get a medical clearance, is the employee eligible for involuntary SMA? Is there a reporting requirement with regard to the medical condition? Do you have to continue to demonstrate the medical need for ISMA? If there is no longer justification for a medical ISMA, would the EFM still be eligible for voluntary SMA?

A. An employee may receive Involuntary SMA for a family member if that family member is prevented from proceeding to post due to a medical condition. The Office of Medical Services or other competent medical authority must certify in writing that the family member's medical condition prevents the family member from going to post. That certification could be a memo, cable or email that is attached to the SF-1190, Foreign Allowances Application, Grant and Report. If the family member's medical condition changes and the family member may proceed to post, but chooses not to, the employee may be eligible for Voluntary SMA.

The employee must immediately submit the new SF-1190 documenting that the EFM's status has changed. Please note that an employee may only elect VSMA for family members once during a tour of duty and the employee and family member must be separated for at least 90 days. The change of election may not take place during the employee's first or last 90 days during the tour of duty. (DSSR 264.2(2)).

Q5. I am assigned to an accompanied post and my family members are with me. Unfortunately, one of my EFMs has developed a medical condition and the Regional Medical Officer has stated that he cannot remain at post with me. He will return to the United States to get medical treatment for the remainder of my tour. May I put him on SMA? What type of SMA could he receive - voluntary or involuntary?

A. You should submit an SF-1190 to your post management officer to apply for SMA on behalf of your EFM. Please note on the SF-1190 that you are applying for Involuntary SMA because the Office of Medical Services has limited your EFM's medical clearance in such a way that he is not currently permitted to reside with you at post. Please attach documentation from the RMO or Office of Medical Services indicating that needed medical facilities are not available at post and therefore the EFM's medical clearance is being limited. You would then be eligible for ISMA on behalf of your EFM.

Q6. What support is available to families on involuntary separation?

A. The Department of State's Family Liaison Office (FLO) takes the lead on providing support to families on separate maintenance, both voluntary and involuntary, as well as those in evacuation status. FLO has developed a resource book and a website for unaccompanied tours on the internet website
http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c14521.htm

Q7. How does ISMA relate to travel of separated families?

A. Travel for children of separated families described in Foreign Affairs Agency regulation 3FAM 3753 does apply to children on involuntary separate maintenance allowance. Since children are not allowed to visit an unaccompanied post, travel would have to be to an alternate location.

Q8. There are no English language schools at my post of assignment, and no "adequate" schools as determined by the Office of Overseas Schools because the one school just closed its doors. Do I qualify to receive ISMA for my spouse or domestic partner and school-age children to live elsewhere?

A. ISMA requires that a U.S. government policy prohibit your spouse or domestic partner and children from residing with you at your post of assignment. The lack of adequate schooling for school-age family members is not the result of a USG policy and ISMA cannot be paid. Depending on the circumstances, you might qualify for either Voluntary SMA or an Away-from-Post Education Allowance.  The provision of a higher Away-from-Post Education Allowance is the statutory remedy for a lack of adequate schooling at overseas posts.