COLUMBIA — With an increasing deficit, the U.S. Postal Service proposed raising the prices of stamps and postcards by 2 cents Tuesday. That and congressional hearings, which begin Monday, to possibly cut Saturday postal deliveries might cause some Columbia residents an inconvenience.
Stamps are set to increase from 44 to 46 cents and postcard rates are to increase from 28 to 30 cents. The federal Postal Regulatory Commission must approve or reject changes to stamp and postcard prices. The commission has 90 days to respond. If the price changes are approved, they will take effect Jan. 2, 2011.
According to a news release by the Postal Service, the price increases will help raise about $2.3 billion for the first nine months of 2011.
Postmaster General John Potter said in the release that “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.”
Joanne Veto, a Postal Service senior manager, said there are two things a consumer should know about the increase in postage prices.
“The first is an increase in prices for stamps and postcards by 2 cents, and the second is the new Forever Stamp,” Veto said. “The Forever Stamp, which you can buy starting in October at the current rate of 44 cents, will keep its price and is valid forever."
Andrew DuCharme, general manager of Lakota Coffee Company, said he is annoyed with the increase in postage stamps.
“Paying 2 extra cents is not the end of the world but not something I’m thrilled about,” DuCharme said.
Increased prices with the rise of inflation are not new, but changing the amount of delivery days is.
Since the 1980s, Congress has required mail delivery six days a week. Starting Monday, Congress plans to discuss if it is time to make the change. The Postal Service has been dealing with financial issues and drops in mail volume for the past three years and is looking to Congress, said Gerry McKiernan, another Postal Service Senior Manager.
“We are projecting a $7 billion deficit for the next fiscal year, and the price increases will only raise $2.3 billion,” Veto said.
McKiernan said the shift away from paper mail to electronic communication has caused an “erosion” in the volume of mail since the Postal Service's highest year four years ago.
“The Postal Service delivered a record number of pieces of mail at 213 billion pieces in 2006,” McKiernan said. “We have never delivered more pieces of mail.”
McKiernan said the Postal Service dropped to 177 billion pieces in 2007 and 2008. With the increasing drop in mail, local postal offices are in financial trouble.
He said the Postal Service would never return to the volume of mail it processed before the recession.
One solution is to eliminate Saturday deliveries.
“Saturday is the lowest volume day of the week and in addition, at least one third of all businesses are closed,” McKiernan said. “More Americans, more homes and more places for us to go everyday have costs increasing but revenue decreasing.”
Lori Fleming, city finance director, said Columbia wouldn't be affected by five-day delivery service because city allows residents 20 days to pay a bill.
“I really don’t anticipate any affect on the city,” Fleming said. “We always provide enough days of service.”
Fleming said she encourages paperless billing options online instead of receiving a bill in the mail.
Along with eliminating one day of delivery and increasing postage rates, the Postal Service is also asking Congress to consider removing the requirement to prepay $5.6 billion dollars every year for the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund, McKiernan said. The fund was established under Title VIII of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.
The Postal Service is finding it difficult to comply with the fund, and McKiernan said it needs some relief from Congress.
“We are trying our best, but volumes are not matching our responsibilities,” McKiernan said. “No company is paying 10 percent to accommodate entire health benefits.”
The Postal Service has expressed concerns for their customers.
“We do not want our customers to have to carry all of the burden for this deficit," Veto said. "We have gone to congress with a series of options.”
DuCharme does not anticipate a problem with his business because of the change.
“For us, the only important things we get on Saturday are checks from a wholesale account,” DuCharme said. “Most of the time, we don’t get those until Monday, anyway. Any mail on Saturday, we just get it Monday morning.”
Columbia resident Steven Schopp still gets his bills in the mail but is willing to adapt.
"Five out of seven days is plenty to get mail out. Saturday is the weekend," Schopp said. "It's usually junk anyway."