Will the Postal Service ignore its most vulnerable customers?
The Prison Policy Initiative submits a comment letter calling on the USPS to stop rounding up postage costs and to remember that low-income incarcerated people are reliant on the postal service for communication.
by Peter Wagner, October 29, 2019
Today, the Prison Policy Initiative submitted a comment letter to the regulatory agency that oversees the Postal Service’s rates. The Postal Service is proposing to round the price of a first class stamp up to the nearest 5 cents.
Our objection is not to the specific rate charged, but to the policy of rounding up to the nearest nickel. We specifically objected to the Postal Services argument that the rounding is appropriate because the annual impact on the average “household” is small. In our nine-page letter, we explain:
- Why the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S. are disproportionately reliant on the Postal Service for communication.
- How much mail the typical incarcerated person sends (in perhaps the first ever national estimate of how many stamps incarcerated people purchase).
- Why the Postal Service is obligated to serve all people, not just “households.”
- Just how little income incarcerated people have, and how many hours of prison labor it would take to pay for a 3 cent rate increase caused by the Postal Service’s rounding policy.
- Why it is inappropriate to propose a rule that disproportionately impacts incarcerated people — who do not have ready access to the Internet — and only allow a narrow two week comment period.
In our letter, we explain that incarcerated people and their families represent a constituency that is uniquely dependent on letter mail sent via the U.S. Postal Service. We argue that the Postal Service’s five-cent rounding policy imposes substantial negative effects on this constituency. Unless the Postal Service is willing to create a new classification to provide reduced rates for mail sent by or to an incarcerated person, the needs of incarcerated customers should be accounted for in determining how rates are calculated.
The five-cent rounding policy has already come under fire from the federal courts. In September, a federal court rejected the Postal Service’s rationale for its January 2019 rate increase to 55 cents. (The Postal Service’s data showed that a stamp should cost 52 cents in 2019, but their new rounding rule made a stamp cost 55 cents in 2019.) Unfortunately, despite the Postal Service’s loss in court, the proposal for rates in 2020 invents a new flawed rationale to justify the discredited rounding policy. (Without the rounding policy, stamp prices would probably be 52 or 53 cents in 2020.)