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Post allowance restored for US civilian workers in South Korea

The Main Exchange at Osan Air Base, South Korea, is seen on May 22, 2014. The post allowance rate for Korea-based government employees unexpectedly dropped to 0 percent of disposable income on May 4.

SEOUL — The U.S. government has restored the post allowance for Korea-based workers to 20 percent of spendable income after the cost-of-living adjustment was suddenly eliminated last month.

The move was effective June 1, and also is being applied for the pay periods ending May 17 and 31.

The military and the government have not explained why the allowance was cut or why the decision was reversed so quickly. The State Department’s website said only that the change is based on an “administrative increase.”

U.S. Forces Korea issued a brief statement Tuesday announcing the change but would not answer further questions.

Based on two recent letters from USFK commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti to civilian employees, the cut appeared to be linked to a recent State Department survey that determined post allowance rates. In a May 16 letter, the commander said the survey did not include Department of Defense civilians, and assured them that he was making the issue a priority.

“I am very concerned about the effect this will have on you and your families,” the letter said.

A DOD civilian employee who contacted Stars and Stripes says he received an email from the Army on May 24 stating, “The decrease of post allowance occurred based on the results of a Retail Price Survey conducted by embassy personnel in Seoul, Korea. 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.”

That email was the only notification the civilian employee received about the cut in post allowance. The employee’s co-workers also did not receive notification from USFK about the cut.

The employee said the post allowance cut, had it remained in place, would have meant a $7,000 annual drop in pay.

“I and others were certainly upset. ... However, most of us also did not bother to ‘fight the good fight’ because we’ve become resigned to being the lowest priority,” the employee said. “On a good day, support for civilians here is weak, at best. Following reneging on LQA, sequestration, furlough, and ongoing mismanagement of civilian positions and resources, most of us didn’t think it was worth the effort. I don’t know of anyone willing to quit over this, but I have heard more than once that a civilian employee is looking to leave USFK as soon as possible, and this was just one more straw on the camel’s back.”

Post allowance had been set at 15 percent to 20 percent this year. 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.

In a letter issued Monday, Scaparrotti said the State Department would conduct another survey, probably in mid-June, that will include all government employees.

“All employees are encouraged to participate in the survey as the data it generates will adjust the (post allowance) rate in Korea accordingly,” he said. “You have a chance to be heard. Make it count.”

rowland.ashley@stripes.com
Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes

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