‘Forever’ stamp would never die

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Call it the stamp that just keeps on delivering.

The Postal Service is planning a “forever” stamp that would remain valid for mailing a letter despite future rate increases.

That means folks could say goodbye to those annoying 2- or 3-cent stamps that have to be added to letters every time rates go up. Sheets, rolls, books or loose stamps in the drawer would still be good.

Forever.

The idea for the special stamps, which would be sold at the same price as other first-class stamps, was included in proposals announced Wednesday that would also raise stamp prices 3 cents – to 42 cents – next year.

“A forever stamp would help ease the transition to any future price adjustments,” board chairman James C. Miller III said.

So, would people stock up on them?

“No, because I’d probably lose them,” said Timothy Cummings, 31, of Lakeland, Fla.

But Layne Rico, a corporate pilot from Valencia, Calif., was more enthusiastic. While he mainly uses stamps for greeting cards, he thinks the forever stamp is a good idea. “Five hundred or 1,000 would cover me in my lifetime.”

Adela Checino of Orange County, Calif. said she would stock up on the stamps because she uses lots of them to pay bills.

And Inez Miller of The Villages, Fla., agreed she too would stock up, though she expressed a bit of skepticism that they would really be good forever.

The idea must still pass muster with the independent Postal Rate Commission, but that shouldn’t be a major problem since commission member Ruth Goldway urged the post office to consider such a stamp a year ago.

“All of us at the commission who have followed the issue are delighted that this is something we will be able to consider,” Goldway said Wednesday.

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.

Raising postal rates is a complex process that takes nearly a year, meaning consumers would have plenty of time to get the special stamps when they knew an increase was coming.

Hoarding isn’t expected to be a problem.

Here’s how it would work. If the 3-cent increase takes effect next year, the forever stamp would be made available for 42 cents, the same as other first-class stamps. If the first-class rate were to rise to 45 cents in a few years, the 42-cent forever stamp would still be honored for postage on letters. Once the new price took effect, forever stamps would then sell for 45 cents.

The proposed rate changes would take effect in May 2007 at the earliest, postal officials said.

As for the postage increase, Postmaster General John E. Potter said, “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.

In addition to the increase in first-class prices, the rate changes would include boosts in other categories – along with some rate cuts.

For example, 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.

Other changes would include Express Mail, flat rate up from $14.40 to $16.25; 2-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; post card, up from 24 cents to 27 cents.

The cost of a first-class stamp went from 37 cents to 39 cents in January. Before that, the price had been unchanged since 2002.

The January increase was required so the post office could place some $3 billion in an escrow account, a step required in law.

The House and Senate have both passed bills to eliminate that requirement, but there is a threat of a presidential veto.

Magazine and business mailers on Wednesday urged quick action in Congress to get those bills approved.

Overall, the Postal Service expects to finish this fiscal year about $2 billion in the red. With the proposed rate increase it would expect to break even in 2008.

The new rate proposals also change some of the ways rates are calculated, adding shape as well as weight into consideration.



Associated Press Writer Natasha T. Metzler in Washington contributed to this report.

On the Net:

U.S. Postal Service: http://www.usps.com

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