DOD’s decision on COLA funding draws mixed reactions
Stars and Stripes March 29, 2008
Reaction was mixed Friday to news of the Defense Department’s decision to require military organizations to pay cost-of-living allowances to all qualifying overseas employees.
Many were elated at the possibility that they’d be getting thousands more a year to help them cope with high overseas prices. Others were skeptical, taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Faida DeLucia was anything but dubious.
“We’re all excited about this because it will really help us get by,” said DeLucia, a nonappropriated fund employee who works for the Navy in Naples, Italy.
DeLucia, like many overseas NAF employees, was already overseas when she was hired for a full-time position. While the job came with a regular paycheck and guaranteed hours, many of the other perks given to employees hired from the U.S. were not available to her.
Andy Bennett, 33, is in the same situation. Bennett, a warehouse worker for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service for 14 years, said employees need the allowance more than ever due to the exchange rate.
“If it all works out, it’s great,” he said. “I mean, who couldn’t use the money right now? With the euro rate the way it is, everybody could use a little extra.”
While full-time American employees brought over from the States have been getting post allowance — a cost-of-living allowance paid to qualifying employees to make up for the dollar’s diminished buying power overseas — Bennett, DeLucia and many others didn’t.
“We have to exchange our dollars for euros just to pay our bills and shop on the economy,” DeLucia said. “Since 2000, I’ve lost three quarters of my savings with the cost of converting dollars to euros.”
She might be able to recoup at least some of that lost money.
“The Office of the Secretary of Defense conducted a review of NAF employer practices and found that some NAF employees who were hired overseas in positions eligible for Post Allowance did not receive the benefit to which entitled,” Lt. Col. Les’ Melnyk, a Defense Department spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
On March 21, Michael L. Dominguez, the principal deputy secretary of Defense for personnel and policy, told the Navy and other military employers to pay post allowance to people such as DeLucia, and advised that the Defense Department “will develop guidance for employee claims for backpay,” Melnyk wrote.
“I’m excited, but skeptical,” said Tim Decker, who works for Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation in Naples. “I’ve been in the system for a long time, so I’ll believe it when I actually see it.”
Questions about exactly who will get the allowance and who is eligible for back payments linger.
It is clear that all U.S. citizens hired for regular, full-time positions qualify. But some people who regularly work 40-hour weeks might not qualify if hired in a part-time capacity. Melnyk was asked about this particular situation Friday, but did not respond by Stripes’ deadline.
It’s also not known exactly how many people are affected. There were 129,460 NAF employees in January, according to the Defense Department’s Civilian Personnel Management Service, but not all those are Americans nor are they all overseas.
AAFES and the Air Force are the two biggest NAF employers who weren’t paying the allowance to eligible employees. The Army, the second-biggest NAF employer overall, has paid the allowance to all eligible employees.
A spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe said they are still awaiting guidance on the issue. A spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service said the details are still being figured out.
Chris B. Litch, a visual merchandising manager for AAFES in Grafenwöhr, Germany, said he asked about the allowance when he became a full-time employee in 2001. “But I didn’t really pursue it. You know, I just thought, well, OK. I was lucky I had retirement pay to fall back on.
“But now that the … dollar has dropped so much against the euro, yeah, I feel the pinch now too myself,” Litch said.
Stars and Stripes reporters Scott Schonauer and Lisa M. Novak contributed to this story.