WASHINGTON — Buy those Forever stamps now. The cost of mailing a letter may be going up again.
Fighting to survive a deepening financial crisis, the Postal Service said Tuesday that it wants to increase the price of first-class stamps by 2 cents — to 46 cents — starting in January. Other postage costs would rise as well.
The agency's persisting problem: ever-declining mail volume as people and businesses shift to the Internet and the declining economy reduces advertising mail.
"The Postal Service faces a serious risk of financial insolvency," postal vice president Stephen Kearney said, an indication that without significant changes a time could come when the agency would be unable to pay its bills.
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The post office lost $3.8 billion last year, despite cutting 40,000 full-time positions and making other reductions, and Kearney said it is facing a $7 billion loss for this year and the same for fiscal 2011, which begins in October. The rate increase would bring in $2.5 billion, meaning there still would be a large loss for next year.
The post office, though part of the government, does not receive a tax subsidy for its operations.
While the cost of a first-class stamp would go up, people who bought Forever stamps at the current 44 cents or at lower prices would still be able to use them without paying the difference.
Officials also said they plan a new design for Forever stamps, which currently have an image of the Liberty Bell. New Forever stamps will have images of evergreen trees. All Forever stamps would remain valid.
The current 44-cent first-class rate took effect May 11, 2009.
The rate increases proposed Tuesday now go to the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, which has 90 days to respond. If approved the new prices would take effect Jan. 2, Kearney said. Besides the first-class increase, postage costs would rise an average of 5 percent.
The latest increase is part of a series of deficit-fighting plans, announced in March, that include reducing mail deliveries to five days a week, closing offices and making other cuts in expenses. Congress would have to agree to eliminating deliveries on Saturdays.