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New post allowance rates in Korea hinge on survey results

The Main Exchange at Osan Air Base, South Korea on May 22, 2014. The post allowance rate unexpectedly dropped to zero percent of disposable income on May 4, after remaining at 15 percent to 20 percent this year.

SEOUL — The State Department is conducting a new survey that will be used to determine post allowance rates in South Korea, following the sudden elimination of the benefit last month based on the results of a previous survey that excluded civilians.

The new Living Pattern Questionnaire is being conducted through June 30, and will include all U.S. government civilian employees, according to U.S. Forces Korea.

A statement posted on the USFK website encouraged all U.S. civilians living in Korea to take part in the survey, saying that, “maximum participation is needed for the results of the [survey] to be considered valid.”

The post allowance rate was unexpectedly eliminated on May 4 after holding steady at 15 percent to 20 percent of disposable income for most of the year.

USFK’s commander, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, wrote in a May 16 letter to employees announcing the change that he was making it a priority to address the drop, adding that “I am very concerned about the effect this will have on you and your families.”

The U.S. government announced just weeks later that the post allowance would be restored for Korea-based workers to its pre-May level of 20 percent of disposable income, effective June 1. The change was retroactively applied to the pay periods ending May 17 and 31.

The military and the government have released little information about why the post allowance was cut — and whether the drop was made in error — and then swiftly reinstated, with the State Department saying on its website only that the change was based on an “administrative increase.”

However, a May 24 email from the Army provided by a DOD civilian to Stars and Stripes said the decrease was based on the results of a Retail Price Survey conducted in Seoul.

“The primary reason for the reduction, according to the [State Department], was based on the relatively low price of goods reported for the commissary on post and the results of a Living Pattern Questionnaire that indicated most employees conduct their shopping on post rather than off post,” the email said.

The post allowance cut caused frustration and anger among civilian employees, many of whom would have seen a drop of thousands of dollars annually in their paychecks had the cut remained in place.

Post allowance is given to U.S. civilian employees stationed overseas in a location where the cost of living is substantially higher than in Washington, D.C., allowing foreign-based employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for living expenses without seeing a reduction in their living standards.

Employees can access the questionnaire at: surveymonkey.com.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com
Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes
 

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