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    Hawaii Hosts Living Pattern Survey To Adjust COLA Entitlements

    Ten Facts about the Living Pattern Survey

    Photo By Petty Officer 2nd Class Allen Amani | 190208-N-YM720-1001 PEARL HARBOR (Feb. 8, 2019) A graphic displaying various...... read more read more

    Military members are entitled to a variety of pays and allowances based on their time in service, rank, location and operational status; much of which they do not have any direct control over. However, there is one entitlement offered by the military that allows service members to give their input to determine the amount they receive. When it comes to the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) entitlement, service members are actually encouraged to offer information in the form of a survey to determine adequate payments.

    The Living Pattern Survey (LPS) is a tool used at Outside Continental United States (OCONUS) military bases and regions to determine the monetary amount of COLA service members will receive. The opportunity only comes every three years, and Hawaii-area commands are currently offering the survey February 1 through March 1.

    Service members serving at OCONUS duty stations, to include Hawaii and Alaska, receive COLA as a way to compensate for the higher costs that can come with living overseas.

    “COLA is a very important quality of life entitlement for our service members,” said David A. Tom, Quality of Life & Education Analyst at Directorate of Manpower and Personnel. “It is designed to offset the price of goods and services overseas so that you can live the same as you did back in the United States.”

    As the entitlement is intended to reflect the differences in cost between goods and services in the Continental United States (CONUS) and OCONUS, the prices of compared goods from each region need to be up-to-date. That is where the survey comes in.

    The survey is open to all active duty branches, uniformed Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees and U.S. Public Health Service employees that have been on station for longer than three months. It can be taken on any computer, and even at home.

    “I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to take the survey,” said Tom. “It’s your chance to get your opinion heard. The more people that answer, the truer picture we get.”

    Done every three years in order to reflect changing shopping patterns, the 30-minute survey allows analysts a screenshot of where service members are shopping, how often they are shopping and what they are buying.

    “They are telling the Department of Defense where they shop and how often they shop, and that is critical,” said Tom. “This is the only step in the COLA process that you get to directly influence the entitlement.”

    Whether the service member shops at military exchanges and commissaries, out in town or even online, their input matters.

    Data collected from the survey offers a current and up-to-date determination of the two primary stores that service members shop at based on each product category, such as produce, meat or clothing, etc.

    In March of every year, a Hawaii team of analysts uses the results of the LPS to conduct the annual Retail Price Survey (RPS). This is a process in which the prices of goods are compared between OCONUS prices at the determined stores and the CONUS average of those same goods.

    “That is why it is so significant to know where people are shopping now, because during past surveys our service members had said that they shopped at Sears or Kmart,” said Tom. “Those stores are no longer in business on the island, so we cannot use them as price points.”

    Defense Travel Management Office's (DTMO), ultimately in charge of recommending changes to the amount of COLA each region is allotted, produces a list of 120 commonly bought items that are used in the determination of price differentials for the RPS.

    The Hawaii team goes to the military exchange and top two stores identified by the members in each shopping category and they physically price the items from the given list of 120. These prices are compared against the average CONUS prices. Those price differentials are put into an algorithm that helps determine the amount COLA needs to be in order to offset the difference in prices.

    The RPS is conducted annually to follow the fluctuating prices of goods. That means COLA entitlements are subject to change every year with the results of the retail survey.

    Other factors that determine COLA for each individual include number of dependents, years of service and a member’s rank.

    To find out more about the entitlement and calculate the amount of COLA they should be receiving, service members can visit https://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/colaCalc.cfm.

    It is important that service members remember that COLA is not pay, but an entitlement intended to benefit them.

    MaryAnn Pomeroy, a military spouse and new mother, who recently moved to Hawaii quickly found the benefits of the extra income COLA brings in.

    Pomeroy said that her family shops at the commissary as much as possible to offset the increased grocery costs; however, they have found that non-local produce shipped from off-island goes bad faster than produce bought in town at higher costs. Despite the higher prices, they buy it to prevent waste on produce. She also found that the COLA helps offset the prices of fresh food on the island.

    Tom acknowledges that service members don’t always have a lot of choice in where they are being assigned. For those that leave the United States, each OCONUS region brings with it its own challenges and unexpected expenses, that’s what makes COLA so important.

    “We have definitely had to readjust the way we typically spent money at our past duty stations,” said Pomeroy. “COLA has given me a lot more peace of mind living here and being a new stay-at-home mom.”

    To take the survey service members can visit, https://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/colaSurvey.cfm?ID=HAWAI from any computer or mobile device, no CAC required!

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 02.22.2019
    Date Posted: 02.22.2019 15:12
    Story ID: 311675
    Location: PEARL HARBOR, HI, US 

    Web Views: 232
    Downloads: 1
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