Reporting from Washington — The Postal Service on Tuesday proposed a 2-cent increase to the price of a first-class stamp, hoping to cut into a massive budget shortfall as companies caught in the recession have slashed mailings and people are increasingly communicating via e-mail and social networks.
The post office, facing an estimated $7-billion shortfall in 2011, seeks to charge 46 cents for a first-class stamp, effective Jan. 2. The hike, along with other proposed increases to the cost of mailing magazines and newspapers, would raise an estimated $2.3 billion by the end of next year.
In March, the post office proposed cutting costs by stopping most Saturday mail delivery services, a move that requires congressional approval.
"There is no one single solution to the dire financial situation that the postal service faces," Postmaster General John Potter said Tuesday. "These proposed rate adjustments are moderate and part of a fair and balanced approach to insuring mail service for all Americans well into the future."
Among the other recommendations is an 8% increase in the cost of sending newspapers and magazines. Mailing books, DVDs and other forms of media would go up 7%.
Across the board, the proposed increases average 5.6%.
Mail volumes have declined sharply amid the economic downturn and the increased use of electronic communication, dropping by 12.7% from 2008 to 2009. By comparison, mail volume dropped 2.2% after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The proposed new rates will be reviewed by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent five-person agency appointed by the president, which has 90 days to rule.
The price changes also would affect mail sent outside the U.S., including letters mailed to Canada and Mexico.
Netflix, which ships an average of 2 million DVDs each day by first-class mail, said it was "willing to take our share of the sacrifice to ensure a stronger, more viable United States Postal Service."
The proposals drew criticism from the Affordable Mail Alliance, a group that represents publishers, magazines and nonprofit organizations, including Conde Nast and Time Inc.
"This proposed rate increase amounts to another tax imposed on Americans at a time when the economy can least afford it," said Tony Conway, a spokesman for the alliance and the executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers. "Consumers everywhere will pay more for the letters and packages they need to send."