Nonprofit mailers fear discounted rates may be revoked

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NEW YORK - Some nonprofit mailers are concerned that their privileges may be rescinded as the U.S. Postal Service struggles with rising costs and diminishing First-Class Mail returns.

That was the message from Anthony W. Conway, executive director of the Washington-based Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, who spoke May 7 at the Greater New York Postal Customer Council Nonprofit Workshop. Mr. Conway said while Nonprofit Standard Mail rates will continue for the time being, the USPS is facing business challenges unlike anything it has ever faced before, so there may be some changes in the future.

"The key business challenge that the Postal Service is facing is that First-Class Mail is in decline and has been for the past five years," he said. "First-Class mail has been the bread and butter of the postal system for 200 years. … It continues to cover more than 60 percent of the overhead costs of the Postal Service. But it is on the decline primarily because of the Internet."

He also said the Postal Service continues to grow.

"Each year the Postal Service adds almost 2 million new delivery points to its delivery network; they have an expanding cost base and a declining revenue base - not a real pretty picture," he said.

While Mr. Conway reiterated that Nonprofit Standard Mail rates will continue in the near future, he said in the next five or 10 years "a lot of folks are going to be looking around and seeing where the Postal Service can save money and save some of the shortfall.

"Everything is going to be examined and at some point in the future there will probably be a call for nonprofit mailers to not get a break anymore - or not as big a break as they are getting now," he said.

Mr. Conway added that those nonprofit mailers who are concerned about the possibility of a change in Nonprofit Standard Mail postage rates should stay involved.

"Write your Congressmen and let them know how you feel," he said. "If you are a shrinking violet and prefer to stay in the background, then your needs will not be met."

Mr. Conway gave an overview of Nonprofit Standard Mail rates, which are 40 percent less than commercial Standard Mail rates. Congress established them in 1951 and designated the categories of organizations eligible to be authorized those rates. They include fraternal, labor, philanthropic, religious, scientific, agricultural, veterans, educational, qualified political committees and voter registration officials.

Nonprofit Standard Mail rates have been carried over into the new postal law that was signed on Dec. 20, 2006, Mr. Conway said.

Discussing the upcoming rate increases - which go into effect May 14 - he said he hopes this is the last time rates are set under the old system, which he described as cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive.

"Current rate cases take over a year to complete and, as we have seen in this case, they often end in controversy," he said. "There is a lot of effort going on right now to set up the new rate-setting system … and to have to be involved in another great big rate case while this is going on doesn't make any sense."

Mr. Conway also walked the audience, which included representatives from nonprofit organizations in the New York area, through how and where to apply for Nonprofit Standard mail rates as well as how to mail at additional locations. He talked about the two-year rule for sending mailings at Nonprofit Standard Mail rates.

Under the rule, nonprofit mailers have to use the permit at least once every two years.

"You can't let it lay dormant over two years or the permit will be pulled for lack of use," he said.

The USPS offers resources to Nonprofit Standard mailers. The agency's Postal Explorer Web site features the Domestic Mail Manual and the Customer Support Rulings, which provide examples of specific mail pieces and an analysis of how the agency's mailing standards are applied.

"In the nonprofit area, there are lots of [CSRs] out there," he said. "You may have a question about a specific type of Nonprofit Mail and you can go to the [CSR] section of the Web site and find a ruling about a similar issue that you are having in a well-written and easy-to-understand fashion. It saves you the time of having to find the right person in the Postal System to talk to."

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