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Military members have the power to affect the cost-of-living allowances they receive, and with the new year, those in Italy will get a chance to possibly make a difference.

Over the next two months, servicemembers and their families at U.S. bases throughout Italy can participate in three surveys that go toward the calculation of the COLA, said Jim Greer, director for both the Navy Region Europe Command and Administration Program and Italy COLA program.

First, in January, officials are looking for active-duty members to complete an online questionnaire called the Living Pattern Survey. It will ask about their shopping habits, from where they shop to what they buy, Greer said.

“The more, the better,” he said of participation. Officials are hoping between 70 percent and 75 percent of active-duty personnel stationed throughout the peninsula will spend the roughly 15 to 30 minutes required to complete the survey.

Then, in February, volunteer shoppers will participate in the Retail Price Survey (RPS). They will price products and services on the economy based on the results of the Living Pattern Survey, Greer said. For example, if members said they bought milk from a particular store, shoppers would visit the store and record the price of the milk.

The RPS prices about 120 goods and services, from the cost of eggs and meat, to recreation, health care, clothing and electronics.

Greer said officials are also looking for lots of participants for the RPS. “We’ll take as many as we can get,” he said. “We’ll find something to do for anyone who wants to help.”

Each year, military bases conduct the RPS. Typically, the living pattern study is done every three years, and while Italy was not scheduled to participate in it for another two years, market changes, such as the addition of major shopping malls and chain stores throughout Italy, prompted officials to do it early.

Both surveys help set the COLA for military members.

The overseas cost-of-living allowance is a supplement designed to equalize the purchasing power between servicemembers living overseas and those living in the States, according to information posted on the Web site of the Department of Defense’s Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee. The average supplement is $300 a month and impacts 320,000 individuals living at 600 locations overseas, including Alaska and Hawaii. It currently costs the DOD about $1 billion a year.

The third survey, to take place during February, is the Utility Survey, Greer said. Members receiving an overseas housing allowance will be asked to detail how much they spend on rent, utilities and other home allowances.

The results can impact both the COLA and the military moving allowances paid by the government to get servicemembers from point A to point B, he said.

Coordinators have yet to establish the Web site and post the Living Pattern Survey, which should be done by the first week of January, Greer said.

Those interested in getting information or volunteering for any of the surveys should e-mail Greer at or contact their local COLA coordinators.

For more COLA information, go to:

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