Stamp-price tweak can­not be for­ever, court rules

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY LISA REIN

The U.S. Postal Ser­vice will have to roll back a por­tion of its largest rate in­crease in 11 years af­ter a fed­eral court ruled that the higher postage prices in place since Jan­uary 2014 can­not be per­ma­nent.

Postal reg­u­la­tors had agreed to a 3-cent emer­gency postage hike for first-class let­ters, to 49 cents from 46 cents, af­ter the Postal Ser­vice said it needed to re­coup bil­lions of dol­lars that it lost dur­ing the re­ces­sion. The 4.3 per­cent in­crease came on top of the cus­tom­ary 1.7 per­cent postage prices have risen to ad­just for in­fla­tion.

But reg­u­la­tors set a cap on the amount of rev­enue USPS could re­coup with the higher prices. The cap will be reached this sum­mer.

USPS and the in­dus­try rep­re­sent­ing bulk mail­ers filed legal chal­lenges as soon as the price in­crease took ef­fect, with mail­ers chal­leng­ing the re­ces­sion’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for higher rates and the post of­fice ar­gu­ing that the in­crease should be per­ma­nent.

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit ruled that the emer­gency rates should not be­come per­ma­nent. The af­ter­ef­fects of the re­ces­sion have be­come “the new nor­mal,” the rul­ing said — and the Postal Ser­vice must ad­just to that re­al­ity.

“The Com­mis­sion sen­si­bly con­cluded that the statu­tory ex­cep­tion al­low­ing higher rates when needed to re­spond to ex­tra­or­di­nary fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances should only con­tinue as long as those cir­cum­stances, in fact, re­mained ex­tra­or­di­nary,” Cir­cuit Judge Pa­tri­cia Ann Mil­let wrote on be­half of the ap­peals court. “The Com­mis­sion per­mis­si­bly rea­soned that just be­cause some of the ef­fects of ex­i­gent cir­cum­stances may con­tinue for the fore­see­able fu­ture, that does not mean that those cir­cum­stances re­main ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary’ or ‘ex­cep­tional’ for just as long.”

But the court also said the Postal Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion had acted ar­bi­trar­ily in cal­cu­lat­ing that postal of­fi­cials should col­lect about $3 bil­lion from the rate in­creased and told the com­mis­sion to re­ex­am­ine its meth­ods. As of Fri­day, it was un­clear when the rates will be rolled back and by how much.

“The con­tin­u­a­tion of the ex­i­gent pric­ing sur­charge is crit­i­cal to the Postal Ser­vice’s fi­nan­cial health,” USPS spokes­woman Katina Fields said in a state­ment.

The mail­ing in­dus­try claimed victory. “We are happy that the court re­jected the Postal Ser­vice at­tempt to make a tem­po­rary sur­charge last for­ever,” Stephen Kear­ney, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Al­liance of Non­profit Mail­ers, said in a state­ment. “Main­tain­ing the af­ford­abil­ity of mail will help en­sure that our na­tion’s postal sys­tem re­mains healthy for years to come. Stamps should be for­ever, but not sur­charges.”

Rolling back the price from 49 cents may be eas­ier than it seems. Although the price of a first-class let­ter jumped to 49 cents in Jan­uary 2014, the Postal Ser­vice did not print new stamps to re­flect the change. In­stead, it re­lied on its popular line of “For­ever” stamps, which now costs 49 cents in­stead of 46. With the court rul­ing, USPS will again re­vise the price of the For­ever stamp.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.