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Postal Rates for Nonprofits

For nonprofit publications that rely on the US mail for delivery, postal rates are a bread-and-margarine issue. Any savings on mailing expenses are delicious.

For decades, taxpayers helped subsidize the US Postal Service in offering discount rates to nonprofit periodicals. It was regarded as a worthy boost to the nation's civic culture.

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A 1993 law ended that subsidy - part of a broad cutting-of-the-purse-strings for the Postal Service - and substituted a complex formula to charge higher rates for commercial mailers that, in theory, would allow lower rates for nonprofit periodicals (such as this newspaper).

Alas, that accounting formula has not worked. It's too complex, often unfair, too contentious, and in some cases, brought higher rates to nonprofits.

Earlier this year, the post office requested a sizable rate rise in 2001, but at the same time it supported a bill in Congress that would simplify everything by always giving nonprofits a straight discount of 5 percent below commercial rates.

No one really opposes the idea. Rather, the issue is timing. Congress needs to pass the bill before its August recess so that the Postal Rate Commission does not just go ahead and approve the higher rates - of some 16 percent - in early fall.

That higher-price spread would be too much for the spreadsheets of many nonprofits. They might fold or seek other delivery methods, such as the Internet.

Congress has a lot on its plate in the next week. The nation's thousands of nonprofits - "points of light" - deserve some attention.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society