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Fewer service members to get cost of living allowance in 2020

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Fewer service members will receive a cost of living allowance in 2020, according to an announcement from the Defense Department on Friday.

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The department will pay about $20.2 million in cost of living allowances, known commonly as COLA, for service members living in expensive areas of the continental United States. This includes about 12,300 service members — down 2,600 from last year — living within 16 identified areas, according to the DoD news release. The decrease dropped annual COLA spending by about $1.9 million.

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To determine what locations receive the taxable allowance, a contractor provides cost data for each military housing area and it is compared to a national average, according to the release. Any area at least 8% higher than that average is eligible to receive cost of living allowances.

Categories that determine cost data include transportation, goods and services, federal income taxes, sales taxes and miscellaneous expenses. Data is also adjusted based on access to commissaries and military exchange stores.

Oakland and San Francisco, Calif., and Staten Island, N.Y., will have the highest COLA rates in 2020. Saint Joseph, Mo., will see the largest increase, rising by two percentage points.

Service members stationed in Fresno, Marin/Sonoma, Sacramento, and Stockton, Calif.; New Haven/Fairfield, Conn.; Nantucket, Mass., and Columbia/Jefferson City and Saint Joseph, Mo., were added to the COLA list, while San Bernardino, Calif., Boston and Essex County, Mass., Detroit, Atlantic City, N.J., West Point and Westchester County, N.Y., and Willow Grove, Pa., were removed.

Other locations remaining on the COLA list are Santa Clara County and Bridgeport, Calif., Long Island, N.Y., New York City, Philadelphia and Camden, N.J.

Additionally, 30 counties outside of military housing areas were identified as locations for service members to receive a boost in pay.

When looking at service members impacted, about 3,800 members will begin receiving the allowance, 3,300 will see an increase in their payments, 4,100 will see a decrease and 6,400 members will no longer receive cost of living allowances. Another 1,100 will see no change, according to the release. 

The total amount of COLA that a service member receives varies based on geographic duty location, rank, years of service and dependency status. Payments range from $32 to $60 per month for members with dependents, and $22 to $45 per month for members without dependents.

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