SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
A challenge to Airmen and families at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany over the last few years has been the reduction of the overseas Cost of Living Allowance, and trying to find ways to increase it has been a priority.
The 52nd Comptroller Squadron recently found a way and helped provide Spangdahlem AB with the second largest COLA increase for U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa within the month of March. Members of the base benefited from the COLA increase on their March 1 paycheck.
COLA is a non-taxable supplemental pay allowance designed to offset higher overseas prices of non-housing goods and services so that service members can afford to purchase a similar level of goods and services overseas as they could if they were stationed in the Continental United States.
“I give all the credit for this above average increase to the 52nd CPTS team,” said 2nd Lt. Ramon Montano, 52nd CPTS flight commander, financial operations. “Our team worked hard collecting prices from more than 180 items from the surrounding area in order to get the most accurate rates for this increase in COLA to be possible.”
Two surveys, the Living Pattern Survey and Retail Pattern Schedule, primarily determine the overseas cost of living relative to the CONUS average. These surveys determine whether COLA will be increased or decreased. The LPS is conducted every three years by service members, while the RPS is conducted annually.
The LPS asks service members where they purchase goods and services and what percentage of those purchases are made on the local economy, at the commissary, purchased online, etc. The survey is available to all service members assigned to an overseas location for more than three months.
“The LPS is something that members of the base play a huge factor in,” said Master Sgt. Amber Cortes, 52nd CPTS flight chief, financial operations. “If people don’t do the surveys when they become available then that makes our job hard and that is when decreases in COLA happen. In other words, the more people that do the LPS the better representation our team has of what members are buying, which we use to get COLA increased.”
The 52nd CPTS encourages all members that can participate in the survey to do so. It will make for a more accurate and beneficial outcome for service members to receive the deserved amount of COLA.
Germany’s last LPS was in October 2018.
The RPS, performed by CPTS members, that captures over 100 market basket prices from on and off base outlets service members identified on the LPS. The market basket is spread across the weighted COLA categories including alcohol, tobacco, clothing, food, and other items.
The intention behind COLA is not to reimburse members for everything, but to give members back the extra money they pay into the economy.
“COLA is not intended to compensate for remoteness and hardship, non-availability of goods and services, or lifestyle changes and loss of spousal income,” said Montano. “COLA is strictly compensating for the cost of items on the economy and we try very hard to get those numbers as accurate as possible.”