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'Forever stamp' to keep you covered

The postal service may let customers lock in a first-class rate that stays valid no matter how high prices rise.

February 27, 2007|Adam Schreck | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The cost to mail a first-class letter looks likely to rise again -- but in the future, postal customers may not need to buy those annoying little 1- and 2-cent stamps to make up the difference. The U.S. Postal Service is poised to introduce its first "forever stamp" that would always be valid for mailing.

The independent Postal Regulatory Commission on Monday signed off on a request by the postal service for the forever stamp, which would eliminate the need for additional low-denomination stamps when rates rise.

The postal service has been pushing for such a stamp to smooth price increases. The Postal Regulatory Commission is also recommending a 2-cent increase in the cost of a first-class stamp -- to 41 cents -- and the forever stamp would be initially sold at that higher price. Consumers who buy the "forever stamps" for 41 cents each could continue to use them for first-class mail even when rates increase again.

"This proposal is good for the postal service, postal customers and our postal system," commission Chairman Dan G. Blair said of the stamp.

The forever stamps are likely to be welcomed by consumers who find themselves stuck having to buy small-denomination stamps whenever prices change. The new stamps' shelf life would also make good sense for the post office, said commission spokesman Stephen L. Sharfman.

"It's costly for the postal service to have makeup stamps," he said. "They have to print them and they have to sell them." That eats into time that postal employees could be using for other tasks, he said.

Sharfman said the commission did not have an estimate for how much the postal service would save by not relying on the small-denomination stamps, but "it's at least a wash" in terms of cost.

The commission also agreed to raise rates on letters, packages and parcels, but at levels lower than what the postal service had requested. In addition to the 2-cent increase for a first-class stamp, the commission also recommended that the cost for mailing a postcard rise to 26 cents from the current 24 cents. The postal service had sought an increase of 3 cents for each.

The commission recommended increases for other types of mail as well. The cost to send 16 ounces or less by Priority Mail would rise to $4.60 from $4.05, for example, and sending an 8-ounce Express Mail envelope would cost $16.25, up from $14.40.

The postal service requested the rate increase and the development of the forever stamp in May, saying higher prices were needed to cover rising fuel costs for its fleet and healthcare costs for its employees. The new rates are expected to bring in $77.6 billion in revenue in fiscal 2008, Blair said.

The postal service's board of governors can choose to implement the commission's recommendations or ask the commission to reconsider. If approved, the new rates could go into effect as early as May.


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