Troops stationed in U.K. getting less money
October 2, 2007
RAF MILDENHALL, England — Despite a declining dollar, troops stationed in the U.K. can expect a smaller paycheck because of a drop in the cost-of-living allowance that went into effect Monday.
The COLA index, used to calculate the overseas pay supplement, is dropping by 4 points at various duty stations in England. One index point generally averages to about $25, meaning some U.K. military members could see $100 less a month as a result of the change.
Rates remained unchanged Monday for troops in Germany and Italy.
Changes to allowances are based on value fluctuations of foreign currency and other considerations, according to the Defense Department’s Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee’s Web site. The latest U.K. COLA swing is based on a dollar’s value rising from 0.468 to 0.4935, according to the committee’s Web site. The U.K. COLA rate was last adjusted on Aug. 1.
While the COLA Web site cited a rising dollar value against the pound as a reason for the latest pay drop, the DOD’s Community Bank has set exchange rates based on the falling value of the dollar in recent months. The British sterling has been worth roughly $2 for much of this year. Community Bank reported exchange rates of $2.03 for one British pound on June 1, $2.08 on Aug. 1 and $2.09 on Oct. 1.
Air Force officials in the U.K. were unavailable Monday to explain the discrepancy in the conversion rates by Stars and Stripes’ deadline.
Around Mildenhall on Monday, news of the COLA rate drop was met with equal parts frustration and derision, succinctly summed up by Airman 1st Class Tamika McPherson.
“Oh no!” she said when told of the drop. “My money!”
With all the talk in the Air Force about doing things more effectively, COLA should be better maintained, said Airman 1st Class Kerensa Franke.
“Being in the Air Force, you’d think they’d come up with something,” Franke said.
“The exchange rate doesn’t seem to be going down,” McPherson added.
Staff Sgt. Nyasha Clarke characterized the COLA drop as “just one more thing” she’s had to deal with financially since arriving in the U.K. this year.
Clarke said she spent a good chunk of her savings just to get set up in England.
“It’s disappointing,” she said, adding that the Air Force is supposed to be doing more with less, and that COLA should be taken care of in a smarter way.
With the latest drop and now even less of a buffer against the pound, Clarke said she’ll be cooking at home more and looking for other ways to make her meager dollar go farther.
“I’m eating pot roast for a week,” she said. “You have to economize.”
The dollar isn’t doing any better on the continent.
Troops and civilians in other parts of Europe have to deal with the dollar taking a beating against the euro. In the last week, the dollar has fallen to an all-time low of 0.6867 against the euro. Just a month ago, the dollar was 0.7224.
But a weaker dollar isn’t transforming into more COLA for troops in Germany or Italy. Their allowances remain unchanged for the second straight month. The latest increase was Aug. 1.
The news is better for civilian workers living in those countries. They will see a 19 percent increase in their cost-of-living adjustment, known as a post allowance.
Throughout Germany and Italy, the allowance index will climb to 50 from 42. The index is one factor used to determine how much post allowance a worker receives. For example, a civilian employee with three dependents who has an annual salary of $45,000 will see his annual post allowance climb to $13,500 from $11,340. That’s about $83 a paycheck, or about $5.53 a day.
James Turner and Jerome Williams, civilian contractors based at Aviano Air Base in Italy, don’t receive such entitlements in their paychecks. But both said they have no problem with other civilians in Italy and Germany getting more money in post allowance payments. They do feel, however, that their servicemember wives should be getting a lot more than they are in COLA payments.
“What with the war going on, shouldn’t the soldiers be getting more?” asked Williams, a former servicemember himself. He’s married to Spc. Shanee Williams.
Turner, also a former servicemember, said he and his wife, Senior Airman Angela Hobson-Turner, do most of their shopping on base — and they struggle to do that.
“There’s no way you can shop off base,” he said. “Because of the euro, we stay at home most of the time. We don’t get a chance to sightsee.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Kent Harris contributed to this story.