The next hike in postage rates could be ameliorated by the introduction of a "forever" stamp that would cover first-class postage despite future increases.
The independent Postal Regulatory Commission scheduled a Monday morning briefing to announce its ruling on the Postal Service's requests to raise first-class rates 3 cents to 42 cents and to establish the permanent stamp.
If the commission agrees, the matter goes back to the board of governors of the Postal Service, which is expected to schedule any rate changes in May. The commission can also reject or modify the rate proposal and send that to the postal board for a response.
A key part of the plan is the so-called forever stamp, which would allow consumers to hedge against future rate increases.
The stamp, which would not show a denomination, would sell for the first-class rate at the time of purchase and would remain valid for mailing permanently, even if rates increase.
That means folks who stocked up on forever stamps could say goodbye to those annoying 2-cent or 3-cent stamps that have to be added to letters every time rates go up.
For the average consumer, the most visible change would be the proposed increase to 42 cents for mailing letters, although the broad-ranging rate proposal covers a multitude of types of mail.
Letters, cards, bill payments and other first-class mail items have been declining in recent years as people turn to the Internet. At the same time, there has been an increase in advertising mail.
And Postmaster General John E. Potter has pointed out that "the Postal Service is not immune to the cost pressures affecting every household and business in America."
For example, each penny increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline costs the post office $8 million, and the post office cannot simply add a fuel surcharge to its rates.
Proposed rate changes included:
_While the first ounce of a letter would rise 3 cents to 42 cents, additional ounces would cost 20 cents instead of the current 24. That means a saving on heavier items such as wedding invitations. The cost to mail a 2-ounce letter would drop from 63 cents to 62 cents.
_Express Mail, flat rate up from $14.40 to $16.25.
_Two-ounce barcoded bank statement, down from 54.5 cents to 48.6 cents
_Bulk-mailed weekly newsmagazine, up from 17.9 cents to 20 cents.
_Presorted catalog, up from 32.1 cents to 33.6 cents.
_Postcard, up from 24 cents to 27 cents.
The cost of a first-class stamp went from 37 cents to 39 cents in January 2006. Before that, the price had been unchanged since 2002.