News and analysis
March 23, 2015

Nonprofit Mailers Scramble, Again, to Fight Postal-Rate Increases

Charity mailers are continuing their campaign to stave off big postage increases for many nonprofit periodicals following an unprecedented development that makes it impossible for the Postal Service to implement new rates by April 26 as scheduled.

The Postal Regulatory Commission, which must assess and approve all changes in postage costs, surprised many lobbyists and others who follow postal issues on Wednesday by rejecting the rates requested by the U.S. Postal Service — for a second time. Some longtime observers say they have never seen the commission reject two successive rate-increase proposals.

Meeting the April 26 deadline is no longer possible because there is a minimum 45-day period between the date when the Postal Service submits a rate proposal for consideration and the date when the new rates can be implemented.

It is unclear how much time nonprofit mailers have to press for lower postage costs, but it is likely the Postal Service is moving quickly to get the new rates in place. Each day of delay costs the Postal Service new revenue it could be raising from the higher rates.

The proposed postage rates would be particularly onerous for certain magazines like Consumer Reports, Guideposts, National Wildlife, and others that don’t weigh much and have little or no advertising. Those publications could see postage rise by more than 16 percent, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars extra annually — or even millions in a few cases. Magazine publishers hope there’s still time to get those periodical rates adjusted, even though the Postal Regulatory Commission did not cite them in its latest rate rejection.

In advocating for periodical revisions, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers is meeting with Postal Service officials and appealing to the Postmaster General. The alliance argues that after a 2006 law tied nonprofit postage increases to the rate of inflation, the Postal Service, "with no warning and little explanation," took a completely different approach.

Instead of tying all nonprofit periodical rates to inflation, the service has proposed discounts on some types of nonprofit magazines while greatly increasing postage on others in coming up with an overall average rate within the inflationary limit. That approach, the alliance argues, is unfair and will likely to drive some charity magazines to become online-only publications.

"Changes in rate structure should not be imposed overnight without considering their potential for rate shock," the alliance said in a newsletter released Thursday. "Much of the rate shock for nonprofit publications is due to the disparate rate changes."

What’s more, the alliance said, forcing big postage increases on periodicals hurts the Postal Service in the long run. Magazines "are still the anchor in the mailbox" and one of the main reasons to continue a government-operated mail service, according to alliance.

"With the decline of traditionally important kinds of mail such as bills, statements, checks, and personal letters, periodicals remain one of the strongest inducements for consumers to open their mailboxes," the alliance’s newsletter said.

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.