The Defense Department released Dec. 20 the 2020 Continental United States Cost of Living Allowance rates, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2020. In 2020, the total number of service members receiving CONUS COLA will decline by 2,600.
Approximately $20.2 million will be paid to approximately 12,300 service members stationed CONUS in 2020 – $1.9 million less than last year. Approximately 3,800 members will now receive CONUS COLA; 3,300 will see an increase in their CONUS COLA payments; 4,100 members will see a decrease; 6,400 members will no longer receive CONUS COLA; and 1,100 will see no change.
CONUS COLA is a taxable, supplemental allowance designed to help offset higher prices in the highest cost locations in CONUS that exceed the costs in an average CONUS location. Rates can increase, decrease or remain the same, depending on the non-housing prices in a duty location as compared to non-housing prices in an average CONUS location.
By law, a contractor provides cost data from each military housing area for the following categories: transportation, goods and services, federal income taxes, sales taxes and miscellaneous expenses. Data is adjusted to account for the amount of Basic Allowance for Subsistence, an allowance meant to offset the costs for a member’s meals and for cost savings gained from shopping at commissaries and exchanges.
This information is compared to the same cost data for average CONUS, which serves as a benchmark. The resulting ratio is called an index. By law, a CONUS COLA rate is only prescribed when the index meets a threshold of 108%, meaning the costs for non-housing types of goods and services in a particular location are at least 8% more expensive than average CONUS. An index in excess of 108% would qualify for CONUS COLA (e.g., a location that is 10% more expensive would qualify for a 2% COLA index).
This year, eight MHAs will now receive an index; two will receive a CONUS COLA index increase; four will receive a decrease; eight will no longer receive CONUS COLA; and two MHAs will remain unchanged.
For non-MHA areas (non-metropolitan counties), 30 counties will now receive an index; one county has no change; and three will lose CONUS COLA.
MHAs with the highest CONUS COLA rates:
Oakland, Calif. 6%
San Francisco, Calif. 6%
Staten Island, N.Y 6%
MHA with the largest increase in CONUS COLA:
Saint Joseph, Mo. 0% to 2%
MHA with the largest decrease in CONUS COLA:
Detroit, Mich. 3% to 0%
Willow Grove, Pa. 3% to 0%
The total amount of CONUS COLA a service member receives varies based on geographic duty location, rank, years of service and dependency status. Payments per CONUS COLA point range from $32 to $60 per month for members with dependents, and $22 to $45 per month for members without dependents. Service members can calculate their CONUS COLA rate at http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/conusCalc.cfm.
Additional information about COLA can be found on the Defense Travel Management Office website at http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/conus.cfm.