Deep cuts to the cost-of-living allowances for service members and their families stationed in Hawaii and Guam that are set to take effect next month may be delayed once again, according to a Pentagon official, as the Defense Department continues to grapple with the impact of inflation.
Cuts ranging anywhere from 50% to 66% -- which can mean hundreds of dollars less for military families in each paycheck -- were anticipated to wallop those living on the Pacific Islands as soon as April 1. However, officials are already working behind the scenes to prevent that from happening, a defense official with knowledge of the discussions told Military.com.
"We don't expect to see any decreases in the March or April OCOLA [Overseas Cost of Living Allowance] rates, and numerous options are being considered by senior department leadership," the defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.
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An E-6 with 10 years of service and three dependents could see anywhere from a $156 cut to a $546 reduction depending on which one of the Hawaiian Islands they are stationed on, if the cuts become a reality.
It's not yet clear whether the Pentagon would resume those proposed cuts to overseas cost-of-living allowances after the April pause, or if officials would seek a more extensive revision to how the allowances are set.
More than 40,000 active-duty service members and their families across the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps call Hawaii home, according to the Hawaii.Gov website.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Camp H.M. Smith, Fort Shafter, Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific, and Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay are all located in the state.
At least 16,400 military members and their dependents are stationed on Guam, most at U.S. Naval Base Guam at Apra Harbor or at Andersen Air Force Base, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The non-taxable overseas COLA exists to make living in more expensive areas more affordable for service members by offsetting the cost of daily goods and services to make them comparable to those in the contiguous U.S. With rising prices due to inflation, the gap has diminished, leading to the cuts. There is also a COLA for the highest-cost locations in the continental U.S.
Anticipation of the steep cuts has caused outcry from family advocates and drawn in lawmakers as well.
Joint Region Marianas, which manages both Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base, wrote a Facebook post saying the cuts were anticipated to take place April 1.
"Our team at Joint Region Marianas is working closely with Indo-Pacific Command to advocate for an appeal of the new Overseas Cost of Living Allowance (OCOLA) Adjustment Policy for Guam," the post read. "Understandably, changes in pay are never easy."
Earlier this month, during the Senate Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on personnel hearing, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, criticized Department of Defense officials for the looming cuts.
Hirono told Pentagon officials at the hearing that her office "has heard from our service members in Hawaii that they are deeply concerned about imminent cuts to their cost-of-living allowance by around 50%" and pointed out that average prices in Hawaii are $4.85 for a gallon of gas and $7.25 for a gallon of milk, both higher than the national average.
"Well, clearly, I don't think that these kinds of cuts are justified for service members in Hawaii," Hirono said. "They are already having a pretty hard time."
Military.com reported in September that cuts were anticipated for Hawaii, but those reductions were sidelined by the Pentagon, which pledged to redo a survey of residents identifying the costs of certain goods. The results of that survey help, in part, the DoD establish the allowances.
A Pentagon memo dated Feb. 15, obtained by Military.com, showed that the redo showed little change from the 2022 Hawaii survey.
"As we continue to combat inflation, the thought of slashing the cost-of-living allowance for service members in Hawaii is absurd," Hirono told Pentagon officials earlier this month.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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