Postal officials are spreading the word that they may seek emergency rate increases next year.
Various scenarios have been bandied about, including one that would raise the price of the 44-cent First Class stamp to 50 cents and other rates by similar amounts. But after several meetings with postal officials, the Direct Marketing Association is telling some members that the Postal Service is more likely to seek an "exigent increase" of only 2% to 3%, including only one cent for the First Class stamp, to help shrink its multi-billion-dollar losses.
Annual increases in most postage rates are generally capped by changes in inflation. Postal officials are realizing that deflation, especially the drop in energy prices since last summer, will probably mean no such rate increases next year, according to accounts coming out of meetings with postal officials. As Dead Tree Edition pointed out recently, USPS will not be able to institute normal rate increases in May 2011 unless the Consumer Price Index rises at an annualized rate of nearly 5% for the rest of this year.
That's why postal officials are pondering an unprecedented "exigency-based" rate adjustment, which postal regulations allow "only when justified by exceptional or extraordinary circumstances." Postal Regulatory Commission rules would also require USPS to discuss the circumstances leading to the proposed increases and "whether the circumstances were foreseeable or could have been avoided by reasonable prior action."
The PRC would hold a public hearing on an exigent rate request and by law would have 90 days to decide whether "such adjustment is reasonable and equitable and necessary to enable the Postal Service, under best practices of honest, efficient, and economical management, to maintain" appropriate service levels.
The Postal Service, which is supposed to break even, is projecting a loss of about $6 billion this fiscal year. To close that gap, which USPS says will grow unless it takes drastic action, postal officials are also discussing plans with mailer groups and postal unions to transition to five-day delivery in the fiscal year that starts in October 2010. That would require Congressional approval.
The closing of thousands of post offices is a possibility, the consolidation of processing and distribution centers has recently accelerated, and USPS continues to shrink its workforce -- all in response to declining mail volume that is causing the budget shortfall.
The meetings have also been an attempt by postal officials to shore up union and customer support for legislation that would reduce USPS' unusually high pre-payments for retiree health care. The Congressional Budget Office estimates H.R. 22 would save USPS about $2.5 billion annually for the next three years.