Servicemembers in Germany brace for COLA decrease
STUTTGART, Germany — Pfc. Jo Anna Alicea of the 52nd Signal Battalion pays about $300 per month for child care. That’s about the same amount her monthly paycheck will decrease after her new cost-of-living allowance goes into effect in 2006.
“We’ve gotten so used to the money,” said Alicea, one of thousands of troops in Stuttgart who’ll be financially slammed by a 36.8 percent COLA decrease. “My daughter has extra-curricular activities that the [Child Development Center] charges for. Not to mention the Deutsche Telekom bills every month, like we have a choice.”
Troops in Stuttgart were shocked Wednesday to learn that they’ll start receiving hundreds of dollars less per month next year because of surveys that concluded they were being overpaid.
The 36.8 percent drop will be phased in at Stuttgart, though the schedule for the decrease had not yet been decided. A 14.3 percent decrease will be implemented in other German communities including Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern and Wiesbaden, which would result in a $105 drop in pay for an E-5 with a spouse and two children. Troops in a few communities, including Vilseck and Grafenwöhr, will see their COLA rise by 9.1 percent.
“Every little bit helps,” said Sgt. Ernest Price of the 7th Army Training Command in Grafenwöhr, who is married with two children, ages 14 and 11. Price will earn about $53 more per month in COLA.
The new COLA rates, which are designed to equalize the purchasing power of U.S. — and overseas-based troops — were calculated using price surveys of their respective spending patterns and how much they pay for goods and services, plus other factors.
Wednesday’s news affected COLA rates in Germany, the Netherlands, and northern Italy. Belgium also was surveyed, but COLA adjustments for troops there haven’t been announced.
In southern Italy, the Navy led a living-pattern survey earlier this year for Naples, Gaeta and La Maddalena.
It was the first such survey in six years, with results expected to be computed by the end of 2005, said survey coordinator Lt. Kenneth Biddle of Navy Region Europe.
Surveys for Spain and the United Kingdom are not finished yet either, according to Roy Sammarco of the Defense Department Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee. COLA indexes for troops there will be developed when survey data is received from the commands, Sammarco said in an e-mailed response.
The severe COLA decrease for Stuttgart, according to Col. Karen Dyson of the 266th Finance Command, was due in part to unrealistically high cost-of-living figures being used in recent years to compute Stuttgart’s allowance.
A Living Pattern Survey conducted in May and June concluded that off-base prices throughout southern Germany are pretty much the same.
Jason Chudy contributed to this report.