Navy officials cancel review of COMRATS program
July 14, 2006
NAPLES, Italy — In an about-face, Navy officials are no longer doing a review of lower enlisted service records to see who is entitled to collect extra cash to help offset food costs.
Last week’s news of the blanket sweep of records, which meant a potential loss of commuted rations — better known as COMRATS — sent a murmur of discontent among young sailors that reached senior leaders. Some sailors stood to lose $500 to $600 a month.
“Leadership engaged and supported the sailor … who would have carried the brunt of the reduction in order to save the galley,” Naval Support Activity Naples Commanding Officer Capt. Floyd Hehe said. “What happened? The sailor got his money back.”
Technically, sailors never lost any money, as they continued to collect entitlements during the review process.
For years, the Capodichino chow hall, called the “Ciao Hall” here, has been on the chopping block, mostly because it loses more money than it earns. Taking away COMRATS would have pushed sailors onto meal passes, which are only accepted at the military dining facility. Those on a meal pass don’t have to pay cash for the breakfast, lunch or dinners served.
The galley must pay for a full staff of employees, regardless if one person or 100 eats. Breakfasts cost $1.90, lunch and dinner each are $3.55.
Now that NSA Naples has stopped the hard-line, mass review of service records, the task is left up to various individual commands, of which there are more than 70. However, sailors not entitled to receive the extra pay stand to lose it.
“If I knew of sailors who were receiving benefits they were not entitled to, I would take action to stop the entitlement flow. That’s my job,” Hehe said. “I support those [on] the COMRATS program, where it provides monetary benefits to those sailors who are unable to get the full benefit of the dining facility.”
The entitlement pays enlisted servicemembers $272 a month, the same amount regardless of rank and years in service. Those eligible to collect include those who live off base, work when dining facilities might be closed, live on a base that has no military dining facility, or live on one base and work at another.
Those receiving COMRATS also get a higher cost-of-living allowance, or COLA, than those who don’t receive the entitlement, which means some can collect upwards of $500 and $600 a month.
However, leaders aren’t anticipating much change to the status quo, officials said. Currently, 346 single sailors live in the Capodichino barracks. Of those, 50 receive a meal pass. The administrative review generated more than 200 waiver requests from various commands, which can request waivers for sailors who can’t get to the dining facility, such as people who work nights.
New sailors arriving to Naples automatically are placed on a meal pass unless their command asks for a waiver because the sailor’s work precludes them from eating at the dining facility at least twice a day.
“The rationale has been that in the U.S., all the galleys … are gone, and there are only a few overseas that are still functioning,” Hehe said. “The [Naples] galley exists primarily for sailors in Qs (meaning quarters, such as the barracks), especially here, where they don’t have the ability to cook in their rooms.”