Allow all active duty members and spouses in Guam to participate in COLA survey

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BLUF: The Cost of Living Allowance decrease for the US Territory of Guam will create significant financial hardships for the military members and their families stationed there. The survey driving the decision is faulty, groceries are expensive and poor quality, and spouses have a difficult time finding jobs.  Immediate action on your part is needed to aid the military families stationed on the 210-square mile island of Guam.

Cost of Living Allowances

  • The military cost of living allowance (COLA) is based on a point index, with 100 as a baseline (no allowance given).  The current COLA rate for Guam is 124, with a projected decrease to 118 in September, and a final decrease to 116 in October.  This 8-point decrease equates to a 30% drop in the amount the military member receives monthly to offset the increased expenses that arise from living on a remote Pacific island. (For reference, our family’s COLA will decrease by nearly $4,000/year).

Survey Shortcomings

  • The projected COLA decrease is a result of, at least in part, data collected via survey.  This survey was provided only to a limited number of members and not directly to any spouses.  Additionally, internet service on Guam is intermittent, slow, and frequently government websites block Guam IP addresses, requiring the use of a VPN (Virtual Personal Network) to access.  These factors further limited data collection, and negatively impacted the accuracy of the expenses incurred by the military population on Guam.

Cost of living in Guam

  • The following list contains three prices for commonly purchased goods.  The CONUS amount is the average cost in the 48 continental US states, the Guam price is that of purchasing the item in the local economy, and the military price is the cost of the item on a military installation, either at AAFES/NEX or the Military Commissary.

 

Gas (gallon) –         CONUS $2.854; GUAM $4.42; MILITARY $3.259

Milk (gallon) –        CONUS $3.33;    GUAM $10;    MILITARY $4.44 (Commissary); $6.99 (AAFES)

Bread (loaf) –         CONUS $1.32;    GUAM $4.20; MILITARY $1.65

  • It may be tempting to glance at these numbers and think, “Well, just shop on base and the cost isn’t THAT much higher than CONUS.”  However, that presents some obstacles.  Namely, the quality and availability of items at the commissary.  Produce is typically only good for 2-3 days after purchase, and is even more exorbitantly priced than the listed examples (strawberries $8.99/pt, green beans $8.19/lb, etc.).  All items, but especially dairy, must be scrutinized for expiration dates.  Many items stocked on the shelf expire within a day or two of purchase; finding yogurt with a week left before expiring is like winning the lottery.  This limits the ability to “stock up” when an item is on sale because it is unlikely to be used before the expiration date.  It is also common for an item to be “out of stock,” with no replenishments for months.  Fresh poultry is not available at all.  All of our chicken arrives frozen, past the expiration date (which is “extended” because it is frozen).  Much of the fish and pork, and some of the beef, is “previously frozen,” and often requires an “extension” on the expiration date.  Bread is also shipped frozen and thawed on the shelf.  Because of these quality issues, it is often necessary to shop in the local economy, at exorbitant prices.

Shipping costs

  • While in CONUS, many families find that shopping online is frequently less expensive than local options.  Even OCONUS, many retailers waive or discount shipping to APO addresses.  However, in Guam, we are not permitted APO addresses because we have USPS service.  Retailers commonly charge more to ship to Guam, or flat-out don’t ship here at all.  Amazon Prime, for example, does not honor Guam addresses, so items that ship free to CONUS or APO addresses are charged based on size and weight to ship to Guam.  This further hinders our ability to shop in cost-effective manners available to other locations.

Spouse Employment

  • Spouses often have a difficult time finding employment in Guam.  The “locals” tend to discourage hiring those who are not native Chamorros, and because the military installations are small, finding federal employment is also difficult.

Conclusion

  • Many spouses that wish to provide a second income struggle to secure a job, our grocery choices are limited, expired, or expensive, shipping costs to the island are high, and the survey being referenced for this change had significant shortcomings.  We are proud to be a military family serving our country and we understand the sacrifices that come with this life. We depend on the COLA to make life on this isolated island reasonably comfortable.  Cutting it by a third is salt in the open wound that the challenges of Guam life create for military families.

Action Request

  • We are asking that our COLA rate remain unchanged until such time as accurate data can be collected and considered.  Grant military members and spouses the opportunity to respond to a widely-available survey and properly report the true cost of living here.


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