The U.S. Postal Service’s governing body, the Board of Governors, voted this week to request permission to raise postage prices above the inflation-based price cap to generate $2 billion in revenue in 2014. It is asking the regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), to allow the Postal Service to raise the price of a stamp by 3 cents (to 49 cents), which is 2 cents more than the annual inflationary increase. Prices on other single-piece and commercial mail products would also increase.
More than 40 million Americans change their address each year, which means the U.S. Postal Service forwards an awful lot of mail. In fiscal year 2010, it forwarded 1.2 billion pieces. Under the Postal Service’s regulations, customers who fill out a change of address form have their mail forwarded to their new address for 12 months after the move. Mail forwarding costs the Postal Service almost $300 million a year. The cost to return mail to sender is another $800 million.
Generally, most consumers know the rates for mailing a 1-ounce First-Class® letter. However, many don’t know the prices of other postal service offerings, such as certification, insurance, or return receipt. In some instances, some of these services must be bundled with the mailing type.
Have you ever heard of Alaska Bypass? It’s a service the U.S. Postal Service offers only in Alaska, allowing shippers to send shrink-wrapped pallets of goods at Parcel Post rates using private airlines. The Postal Service pays airlines to carry the goods to rural Alaskan communities by delivering these goods directly to the stores located in rural areas. The shippers effectively and entirely “bypass” the Postal Service’s delivery network.
When mailing a letter that weighs about one ounce, the U.S. Postal Service’s 44 cents is one of lowest First Class postage rates. Whether you are mailing a letter locally or sending a greeting card across country, it still only costs 44 cents now, but will increase to 45 cents in January. The graph below compares the U.S. Postal Service’s postage rate with other countries. As you can see, Norway charges the highest rate, which is nearly four times the cost U.S. rate.
Mailings that meet minimum volume and preparation requirements to qualify for reduced postage rates are called business mail. Properly accepting business mailings is critical for the Postal Service since it accounted for $25 billion in revenue in 2010. Several types of Postal Service facilities accept business mail. Business Mail Entry Units have acceptance clerks with specialized training and systems for accepting business mail. Local Post Offices can also accept business mail.
On September 30th, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) turned down the request by the Postal Service for an exigent price increase averaging 5.6 percent across all market-dominant products, such as First-Class Mail and Periodicals. Although current law cape increases in these products to the inflation rate, the PRC can consider rate increases beyond the cap if the Postal Service has been affected by “extraordinary or exceptional circumstances.”
Since the earliest days of the Post Office there has been a public policy goal of promoting the dissemination of information throughout the country. This goal was also part of all 14 of the rate cases conducted under the Postal Reorganization Act. By law, rates had to consider “the educational, cultural, scientific, and informational value to the recipient of mail matter.” This provision generally tempered the increases for Periodicals, or at least kept the “institutional cost burden” for Periodicals to a minimum.