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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Servicemembers in Japan and on Okinawa got an early gift this holiday season with a boost in their cost of living allowance.

COLA rates at U.S. military installations in Japan and on Okinawa rose by four points. Rates for locations not on U.S. bases, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Gifu and Yokohama, rose by as much as six points.

The increase in COLA rates is caused by the current strength of the yen against the dollar, said Lt. Col. Loren Darmofal, a financial management officer for U.S. Forces Japan.

The dollar-to-yen exchange rate has dropped dramatically in the past few months. On Thursday a dollar bought 110.75 yen, up from 108.17 yen in late November, a 2½-year low.

The combination of low COLA rates and a strong yen affects how Chiquita Mack, a civilian employee at Yokota whose husband is in the military, does her shopping off base. She said that she buys most of her son’s diapers, baby wipes and other items off base because they are sold in bulk, and she can get more for her money.

Recently, the Pentagon reviewed COLA rates to determine if an adjustment was needed to compensate for the dollar’s decline.

These changes mean the daily allowance for an E-6 with eight years of service and two dependents living at Yokota increased from $19.26 in the second half of November to $22.47 on Dec. 1.

For a single E-4 with three years of service living in the barracks at Yokosuka, the daily allowance increased from $8.25 to $9.22.

“That’s great! Right in time for Christmas,” said Senior Airman Johnitra Barnes, from the 374th Communications Squadron at Yokota, adding that with lower COLA rates her family has been going off base less.

The COLA index determines how much money servicemembers receive depending on their rank, length of service, number of dependents and where they are stationed. Servicemembers living in barracks or dorms receive 47 percent of the COLA index.

According to the Department of Defense COLA Web site, COLA is a supplement designed to offset the higher prices of goods and services for servicemembers stationed abroad and to help servicemembers’ purchasing power equate with what that they would have in the States.

Rates are based on the Living Pattern Survey, which shows where servicemembers shop and what they purchase, and the Retail Price Schedule, which tracks how much specific items and services cost overseas, compared to the States.

For more information or to calculate COLA rates, go to http://perdiem.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem/ocform.html.

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