February 1, 2016
Would you pay more for a postage stamp if the extra money went to support a cause you consider important? Many people would, and do. It’s the idea behind semipostal stamps. You may be familiar with the Breast Cancer Research semipostal stamp, but might not know about its history or the semipostal stamp concept.
The U.S. Postal Service sells semipostal stamps with a surcharge to raise funds for a specific cause. Congress can authorize a semipostal stamp through legislation, like the breast cancer stamp, or the Postal Service can introduce one. There have only been four total in the history of the program, which started in 1997 after Congress passed a law directing the Postal Service to issue the Breast Cancer Research stamp.
Today, semipostal stamps sell for 60 cents, or 11 cents above the full First-Class stamp price. The Postal Service transfers revenues from the sale of semipostals – minus postage and a reasonable reimbursement of costs – to a selected agency or agencies. For the breast cancer stamp, which recently got reauthorized when President Obama signed into law the Breast Cancer Research Stamp Reauthorization Act, which means 70 percent of the net amount raised is given to the National Institutes of Health and 30 percent is given to the Medical Research Program at the Department of Defense. As of August 2015, the breast cancer stamp raised over $80.9 million for breast cancer research.
The Postal Service recently proposed some changes to how it issues semipostal stamps, including clarifying what the cap is on the number of semipostals being sold at the same time. Previous regulations limited the Postal Service to one semipostal in circulation at a time. The January 22 Federal Register notice draws a distinction between congressionally directed semipostals (like the breast cancer one) and those approved by the Postal Service, which it calls “discretionary” stamps. The Postal Service intends to sell discretionary semipostal stamps only one at a time but they could be sold with one or more congressionally approved semipostal stamps.
What do you think of the idea of semipostal stamps? Have you ever bought one? What cause would you choose to see supported by a semipostal stamp?