COLA, or Cost Of Living Allowance, is typically associated with overseas moves. When a military family is living overseas, the cost of living is typically quite different than that of a family in the United States. COLA was developed and provided to offset those costs, so the burden wasn’t solely felt by military families. Did you know there was COLA provided for some CONUS locations?
In the 1995 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress approved the CONUS COLA to help cover the additional costs of high-cost locations. Pay for civilian jobs are location-based, whereas military pay scales are the same across the ranks despite which location the service member resides in. CONUS COLA is provided for areas that have been determined to be 108% of the national average for non-housing costs. While the 7th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation 9QRMC) recommended a threshold of 105%, Congress mandated that the threshold should not be lower than 108%. The threshold has remained at 108% since 1997.
In 2021, a new addition was added to the list of CONUS COLA locations – Washington D.C. As an area well-known for its high cost of living, it’s surprising it took until 2021 to provide a cost offset.
Which CONUS locations offer COLA?
A comprehensive list is available here through the Defense Travel Management Office.
Military Housing Areas that currently provide CONUS COLA:
- California: Oakland, San Francisco, Marin/Sonoma, Bridgeport
- Colorado: Boulder
- District of Columbia
- Massachusetts: Nantucket, Boston, Worcester, Fitchburg, Plymouth, Essex County, Hampden County, Martha’s Vineyard, Hanscomb AFB
- Minnesota: Duluth
- New York: Long Island, New York City, Westchester County, Staten Island
- Virginia: Warrenton
Non-Military Housing Areas that currently provide CONUS COLA:
- California: Inyo County
- Colorado: Broomfield County, Clear Creek County, Gilpin County, Lake County, Park County, Pitkin County, Summit County, Washington County, Yuma County
- Massachusetts: Franklin County
- Minnesota: Aitkin County, Cook County, Itasca County, Kanabec County, Koochiching County, Lake County, Pine County
- Virginia: Isle of Wight County, Southampton County, Surry County, Sussex County
What if we are in an area that rates CONUS COLA?
If the service member is assigned to an area that rates CONUS COLA, it should be automatically included in the pay beginning the first day of work. If you are new to an area, the first day of CONUS pay is the day of check-in to the new duty station. The CONUS COLA rates range from 1% – 7% depending on the area. Check for the rate here.
CONUS COLA is paid as a monthly entitlement based on a 30-day month, just like BAH.
What does the “threshold “mean?
With a threshold of 108%, it means that the service member is expected to cover at least 8% of the average expenses above the national average cost of living. If the service member is assigned to locations where the local costs are above 8% of the national average for non-housing costs, a CONUS COLA provision would be provided.
How are areas determined to require CONUS COLA?
Data is collected from several sources:
- A survey of costs is conducted every 3 years and used to determine the utilization rate and savings that are available at the military commissaries and exchanges.
- Local market price data is purchased from a private contractor – beginning in 2021, Decision Point is used for all cost of living data.
- The military commissaries and exchanges provide information on their availability in a given area.
- The military commissaries and exchanges provide information on their average savings.
The data is collected with numbers in regards to an average family of four. This data is used to review costs annually, as required by law.
While there are many areas in the continental United States that military families would say the cost of living is far and above the area they moved from, the way to impact what decisions are made on CONUS COLA is to answer any survey you receive about the costs of living.
Are you in an area that provides CONUS COLA?