Licking The Postage Problem

Lloyd De Vries is a producer for and a philatelist. (Look it up.)
It's getting a lot of play, but today's postal rates story is just an interim measure.

The Postal Service requested a rate hike last May, when gas prices were soaring. The Postal Regulatory Commission takes 9-10 months to make its recommendations. This one took almost the full 10.

The Postal Service needs about two months to consider the recommendations and then implement them, issuing new stamps and educating its employees. Its Board of Governors won't make a decision at least until March 8. So that puts the next rate hike sometime in mid-May, and everyone has been expecting it.

In fact, most of this year's new postage stamps have been pushed off until after that date. Only stamps with a definite date tie-in (Ella Fitzgerald for Black History Month, Love and Kisses for Valentine's Day) and two others will be issued before then. (The Oklahoma centennial commission requested that the statehood stamp be issued early in the year, and the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow stamp will be issued at a stamp collecting show the USPS co-sponsors.)

No design or theme has been announced for the Forever stamp, which would be valid for mailing a letter even if rates go up. While the Postal Service might lose money on customers who stock up on the issue and hold it past subsequent rate changes, it will make money on stamps purchased but not immediately used, as well as not having to issue as many rate-change stamps.

The U.S. already has something of a "forever" stamp -- a stamp that, once purchased, is good for mailing a letter, even if rates go up.

The Breast Cancer Research charity stamp was issued in 1998 for a two-year period, and it's still around. Part of the price of this stamp goes to charity. It's already raised more than $53 million, and its price has been increased several times. Every time the stamp is due to expire, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) moves to extend it.

Right now, it costs 45 cents, or 6 cents more than the current first-class letter rate. When postal rates go up later this year, as is expected, the Breast Cancer Research stamp will go up another dime, to 55 cents.

If it was purchased at a cheaper price, customers are supposed to pay the difference when they use it to mail a letter. But there's really no way to know what was paid.