By Donna Houseman
Earlier this week, Linn’s Washington correspondent Bill McAllister reports that Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, wants to prevent the United States Postal Service from raising “funds through specialty stamps and give those funds to its own preferred designations.”
The “specialty stamps” Burgess refers to are semipostals, stamps sold at a price greater than the postal value of the stamp. The additional charge is designated for a specific purpose or cause.
The Postal Service has issued five semipostal stamps: the 1998 (32¢+8¢) Breast Cancer Research (Scott B1), the 2002 (34¢+11¢) Heroes of 2001 (B2), the 2003 (37¢+8¢) Stop Family Violence (B3), the 2011 (44¢+11¢) Save Vanishing Species (B4), and the 2014 (49¢+11¢) Breast Cancer Research (B5). Each of these has been mandated by Congress.
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On Sept. 8, 2016, Linn’s associate editor Michael Baadke reported that the USPS was opening a “semipostal discretionary program.” Baadke reported that USPS Director of Stamp Services Mary-Anne Penner spoke about the discretionary semipostal program in the public session of the Sept. 1, 2016, meeting of the Postal Regulatory Commission, during which she encouraged the public to “stay tuned” for an announcement from the postmaster general about what the first discretionary semipostal stamp would be. Linn’s has yet to learn the cause or the issue date of the first discretionary semipostal.
McAllister reports that Burgess believes that Congress has the sole ability to appropriate funds raised through these “specialty stamps.”
However, the Semipostal Authorization Act (Public Law 106-253/106th Congress) authorizes the Postal Service to select causes it believes are worthy of the money collected from the public. The law was enacted May 20, 2016.
The Postal Service began accepting proposals for discretionary semipostal stamps on that date and began considering those proposals July 5, 2016.
Under the Semipostal Authorization Act, Stamp Services is directed to send the proposals to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. The committee then will make recommendations to the postmaster general on what causes should be the recipients of semipostal funds. The postmaster general will make the final decision.
The rule states, “The decision of the postmaster general to exercise the Postal Service’s discretionary authority to issue a semipostal stamp is final and not subject to challenge or review.”
Postal Service employees are not eligible to propose recipients for discretionary semipostals.
The previous rule stated that the discretionary semipostal stamp program “would commence on a date determined by the Office of Stamp Services, but that date must be after the sales period of the Breast Cancer Research stamp (BCRS) is concluded.”
On Sept. 23, 2015, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved continuing sales of the first U.S. semipostal stamp through 2019.
The new law allows Stamp Services to decide when the 10-year period begins, but the beginning of the 10-year period is no longer tied to the conclusion of the Breast Cancer Research stamp. The Postal Service plans to issue five discretionary semipostal stamps in a 10-year period.
No causes have been announced, so we can’t judge the worthiness of the causes or if stamp collectors will want to add them to their collections.
While it can be argued that the public is not required to support the so-called discretionary causes by purchasing the semipostal stamps, stamp collectors who want to add one of each stamp issued by the Postal Service to their collection will be forced to support the causes selected by the USPS through purchase of the stamps.
We can only hope that stamp collecting will somehow benefit from some of these causes.