McHugh Questions USPS Rule Change on Use of Personal InformationRep. John McHugh, R-NY, chairman of the House Panel on Postal Reform and Oversight, sent Postmaster General John E. Potter a letter last month requesting clarification on how the U.S. Postal Service will enforce the June rule change affecting the use of personal information in Nonprofit Standard mail pieces.
DM News was alerted to the letter by the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers.
The USPS published a final rule in the Federal Register last October involving Domestic Mail Manual standards that clarifies the circumstances in which mail containing personal information may be eligible for Standard mail, rather than First-Class, rates.
The final rule, which takes effect June 1, modifies a rule proposal that appeared in the Federal Register in April. In general, that proposal called for an exclusive-purpose test in which personal information would be permitted at Standard rates only when advertising or solicitation is the exclusive purpose of the piece and personal information is included solely to increase the effectiveness of the ad or solicitation.
The USPS got 402 written responses to the rule proposal, including from 350 nonprofit groups as well as private individuals, voting and election officials, financial industry representatives, those concerned with privacy issues and one congressional comment. The top concern was that a literal application of the proposed rule might disqualify nonprofit mail consisting of program-related content as well as a solicitation for donation.
In his Jan. 19 letter, McHugh said he was writing regarding the change that was brought to his attention by the American Management Association, a major nonprofit mailer. "As I understand their concerns," he wrote, "these rules could potentially impede the good works of the nonprofit community."
Though McHugh said that the AMA was assured by senior postal officials that if it can mail at Nonprofit Standard rates today it will be able to do so June 1, he wrote, "many mailers fear some types of mail, currently prepared for entry as Standard Mail, will require substantial modification if it is to remain eligible under the new rule."
McHugh said that charitable organizations recently have paid the higher, First-Class rates because USPS officials deemed that certain mailings did not qualify for the preferred rates if they contained acknowledgments of prior contributions or support of the nonprofit.
"These mailers believe they had conscientiously sought out advice from [the USPS] before introducing the mail and followed the guidance of the [Domestic Mail Manual] and existing Customer Support Rulings, which state that personal information regarding financial transactions to a nonprofit organization can be mailed at the Nonprofit Standard rates as long as a statement that requests increased pledges or additional donations is included," McHugh said.
In closing, McHugh asked these questions:
· Is the postal service moving away from that standard?
· Does the USPS intend to alter Customer Support Rulings that affect fundraising pieces, year-end thank you notes with requests for additional contributions, membership mailings and educational course offerings?
· Does the USPS intend to impose a somewhat subjective test of trying to guess the "intent" of nonprofit mailers when viewing whether a piece qualifies?
"Certainly, if your goal is to improve the value of mail as a communication tool," McHugh wrote, "then we must ensure that classification standards are clear and objective and enforced evenly across the mailing community."
Meanwhile, on Jan. 27, the USPS published two new Customer Support Rulings and a revised Customer Support Ruling designed to provide clarification concerning checks that are sometimes included in direct mail pieces and whether such instruments constitute personal information for the purpose of determining whether matter may be mailed as Standard or is required to be mailed as First Class.
The rulings concern the current Domestic Mail Manual standards, not the standards that take effect June 1. The rulings, PS-319 and PS-320, and the revised ruling, PS-026, can be found at http://pe.usps.gov/dmmadvisory012705.htm.
Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters