WASHINGTON -- It will cost 29 cents to mail a first-class letter beginning Feb. 3. You can start buying the new stamps tomorrow.
The U.S. Postal Service board voted 8-1 yesterday to accept a 4-cent price increase, its first in three years.
The Postal Service expects to raise an additional $6.2 billion annually from the higher prices. Second- and third-class rates were raised for business customers such as magazines and catalog merchandisers.
Among the increases:
* Postcards will rise from 15 cents to 19 cents.
* The minimum rate for express mail goes up from $7.75 to $8.35.
The Postal Service lost $874 million last year. It had requested a 30-cent first-class stamp but was rebuffed by the independent Postal Rate Commission, which said business mailers should bear more costs.
Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank called the 29-cent rate "penny foolish." With the Postal Service losing $20 million a day, it couldn't afford to turn down the commission's decision, he said.
The Postal Service accepted the increases under protest and asked for more proof that the increase would raise the revenue needed.
Mr. Frank also criticized the new 19- and 29-cent stamps, saying they might be a boon to Chilean copper mines where ore for pennies is unearthed, but they could be a pain in the pocket for postal customers.
Half the customers said they would rather pay a round sum for stamps to avoid fumbling for change, according to a Postal Service poll.
The new, first-class stamp depicts a red tulip and has the letter F instead of a denomination. The stamp was printed with a letter instead of a price so it could be stocked at stamp windows before the new rate was fixed.
The Postal Service also is issuing what it calls a makeup rate stamp worth 4 cents. Its homely design simply carries the legend: "This U.S. stamp, along with 25 cents of additional U.S. postage, is equivalent to the 'F' stamp rate."
It will cost 29 cents to mail a 1-ounce letter to members of the armed forces in the gulf on Feb. 3.
A new 27-cent stamp for paying bills was approved but put on hold, probably until June. It will give a 2-cent discount to those paying monthly bills using preprinted envelopes typically supplied by utilities and other businesses. The new rate was delayed to educate consumers about the unprecedented two-tiered rate structure for first-class letters.