Mailing a letter to cost a penny more next year

• Prices for advertising mail, periodicals and parcels also will rise about 2.1 percent.

• There will be a new three-month option for renting post office boxes, for people who need them only for a short time.

• Delivery confirmation will be free on some parcel services, rather than being an extra charge.

A major financial problem for the post office has been the requirement, imposed in 2006, that it pay $5.5 billion annually into a fund designed to cover the medical benefits for retired employees in the future. No other agency has such a requirement.

But while the post office is not part of the federal budget, the fund receiving the payment is, so it counts as income to the government, making the federal deficit appear $5.5 billion smaller. Because eliminating the payment would make the deficit seem bigger, there has been reluctance to drop it.

Still, both houses of Congress are working on legislation to try and address the post office’s financial problems, though some members are also fighting the closing of local offices and seeking ways to keep six-day delivery.

A bill by Reps. Darrell Issa, California Republican, and Dennis Ross, Florida Republican, waiting action in the House would allow the post office to go to five-day mail delivery, phase out lower rates for nonprofit groups, require most mail to be delivered to cluster boxes rather than door-to-door, and increase the amount postal workers pay for health insurance. It would also set up a system for closing post offices similar to the one for closing military bases, bar no-layoff clauses in contracts and, under some circumstances, call for an emergency board to take over postal management.

Bills by Sens. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, and Susan Collins, Maine Republican, are moving through committees in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the post office’s largest union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, has hired its own consultants to study postal operations and make recommendations for the long-term future of the agency.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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