COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) is generally used for service members stationed overseas, to adjust for the cost of living difference between the dollar and the local currency. Because Alaska and Hawaii are considered overseas assignments since they are Outside the Continental United States (OCONUS), you may also qualify for COLA if you are stationed in Hawaii or stationed in Alaska.
However, there are also specific locations within the Continental United States (CONUS) where service members qualify for COLA because of the high cost of living in the expensive cities around some military installations. These rates are recalculated annually. The 2021 CONUS COLA rates apply to more duty stations than were previously covered.
There are important changes to CONUS COLA in 2021. Most locations will see a small increase in COLA payments. Monthly payments range from $32 to $60 per month for members with dependents and $22 to $46 monthly for those without dependents. Notably, Washington, D.C. is now included as an eligible location.
These locations are approved for CONUS COLA in 2021:
CALIFORNIA: Bridgeport, Marin/Sonoma, Oakland, San Francisco
MASSACHUSETTS: Boston, Essex County, Fitchburg, Hampden County, Hanscom AFB, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Plymouth, Worcester
NEW YORK: Long Island, New York City, Staten Island, Westchester County
These updated rates went into effect on January 1, and will now be visible in service member paychecks.
COLA is not part of the BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing). Qualifying service members should receive both payments at the same time, and CONUS COLA is taxable pay. Service members qualify for CONUS COLA based on the zip code of their duty station housing area. It does not matter if you choose to live on base or off base. The service member will still qualify based on the zip code of the military installation housing. If the local cost of living is more than 8% above the national average, service members will qualify for a defined monthly COLA, calculated on a point-based system. According to the DoD, “An average E-6, with dependents and 10 years of service, receives $41 per month for each COLA index point. Index points currently range from one to seven.”