Upcoming COLA cuts leave some Japan-based servicemembers fuming
By LEON COOK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 15, 2017
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Some troops are seeing red over plans to cut an allowance that compensates them for the high cost of living in Japan by as much as half.
A table laying out projected adjustments to the cost-of-living allowance, also known as COLA, was recently shared on social media by U.S. Naval Forces Japan. Servicemembers should see the changes in their Jan. 15 paychecks.
Officials project a small hike for personnel at Naval Air Facility Atsugi and Camp Zama and no change for those assigned to Camp Fuji. However, there will be COLA decreases for many other personnel in Japan, according to the table.
For example, an E-6 enlisted servicemember with six years of service and two dependents living off post can expect a 30 percent COLA drop if they are assigned to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. Yokosuka-based servicemembers will see their allowance cut nearly in half.
The news provoked a flurry of negative comments from servicemembers and their families.
“There is no way junior enlisted can handle this kind of cut,” Brenda Walker, a personal trainer with Morale, Welfare and Recreation at Yokosuka, said on Friday. “And with giving such little warning, how are families able to prepare?”
Officials at the Defense Travel Management Office cited “decreases in recreation and transportation” costs as reasons for the drop at Yokosuka, home of the Navy’s 7th Fleet.
Some on social media felt the cut would be especially hard for those living at Ikego, a housing area about seven miles from Yokosuka Naval Base. The fastest and most direct route between Ikego and Yokosuka is the Yokohama-Yokosuka Toll Road, which costs 310 yen, or about $2.75, each way, according to Navy Installations Command. Local roads take longer and consume more fuel, and taking public transit costs about the same.
In addition to daily commute costs, these personnel either shop on the local economy or go to their parent base for items not carried by a Navy Exchange mini-mart at Ikego.
Others complained about rising prices at on-base commissaries.
COLA rates fluctuate on a monthly basis, but are calculated based on an annual survey, the retail pricing schedule, which tracks the prices of 120 items and services; a living patterns survey, conducted every three years, which studies the spending habits of troops and their families; and on the currency exchange rate, which determines how strong the dollar is versus foreign currency, the Air Force said in a statement explaining the cuts.
“A couple of my friends are trying to get [Yokosuka’s] approval to run small businesses out of their homes,” Walker said.
She also said some people at Yokosuka are requesting expired coupons from friends in the U.S., since the exchange honors them six months past their expiration date, or are selling unwanted items on garage sale groups to get quick cash.
“Everyone has some adjustments to make,” Walker said.
Troops will have the opportunity to take the annual expenses survey and the living patterns survey next summer, the Air Force statement said.