COLA drop tightens purse strings in Italy
In the relentless seesawing of the cost-of-living allowance paid to overseas members, troops stationed at some Italy bases were hit with another dip Wednesday, just two weeks after the supplement increased across the board in Europe.
Allowance rates dropped Wednesday by two points — roughly $50 a month — for troops stationed in Naples, Aviano and Sigonella, Sicily, according to a Web posting by the Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee.
COLA rates did not change for most of the troops in Europe outside of Italy.
Allowance payouts vary, depending on a member’s rank, years of service, location and number of dependents. But roughly speaking, a one-point change equals about $25 for an average enlisted person.
The allowance serves to close the gap between what it costs to live overseas versus the cost of living in the United States. The COLA, as it is known, is calculated based on several factors, including the dollar-to-foreign currency exchange rate, and living surveys the committee uses to determine where overseas shoppers shop — economy versus military exchanges — and what they pay for goods and services.
Wednesday’s two-point drop was the continued result of adjustments — announced in July by the Per Diem Committee — to fine-tune the supplement payout based on results of Living Pattern Surveys filled out by troops and their families.
In those surveys, respondents indicated they shopped more at their base exchanges and commissaries than the local economy, said James Greer, command and administrative program director for Navy Region Europe.
“We’re still playing catch-up based on the survey,” he said.
Elsewhere, sailors based in La Maddalena, Sardinia, will see a four-point increase in September because of the anticipated closure of the Navy Exchange and commissary, Greer said. The base itself is slated to close in February, and the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land, which accounts for roughly half of the base population, is slated to leave in October.
At Aviano, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Carl Loveless said he has only been stationed there for about six months, so he’ll have to wait to see how much a dip in COLA really means to his wallet.
“I try to use the commissary as much as possible, and it is a benefit,” he said. “I live out in Pordenone, so it’s a bit of a commute and I do some shopping off base. My wife does some shopping online. With the BX, there’s only so many people here and so much merchandise to go around.”
In his short stay in Italy, he’s learned that for some products “it’s either wait to see if it comes in or buy it on the economy. There are a lot of commodities that you have to be quick to get them.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Kent Harris contributed to this report.