Guide to Postage Assessments

If you’ve been paying attention to previous e-Tips, our newsletters and webinars, you are likely well aware that the United States Postal Service® (USPS®) plans to implement assessments for non-compliance with the requirements for a number of USPS initiatives such as Intelligent Mail® Full-Service, eInduction, Seamless Acceptance and more. Luckily, the USPS has postponed implementation of these assessments until later this year, but many mailers still have questions on just exactly how this assessment process is going to work. Well, you are in luck, because the USPS has just issued a new Guide to Postage Assessment on the RIBBS web site.

 

What mailings will be impacted?

There are four areas of USPS validation that will be impacted by the implementation of these postage assessments:

  • Intelligent Mail Full-Service
  • Move Update
  • eInduction
  • Seamless Acceptance

Any mailings that are evaluated by the USPS in these areas have the potential to be subject to additional postage assessments if mailings exceed the designated error thresholds. These thresholds vary for the individual validations performed by PostalOne!®, the results of which are available to mailers on the Mailer Scorecard. The evaluation results data are collected on a calendar-month basis, and it is the error threshold data for each calendar month that is subject to assessments. For example, the full-service program uses the submitted eDoc to verify the Mailer ID (MID) in a piece’s barcode. A MID error is logged for each piece in the mailing that fails this verification. When the number of MID errors exceeds the established threshold, the eDoc submitter will be assessed on those errors over the threshold for the calendar month. If the percentage of error is below the established threshold or if the additional postage due is less than $50, then no additional postage is assessed. If the percentage of error is above the established threshold, the additional postage due (the assessment) is calculated using the number of mailing pieces represented by the error percentage over the threshold for the calendar month. For example, if the error threshold is 2% and your error percentage is 3%, the assessment would apply to 1% of the mailpieces submitted during the calendar month of the evaluation. The amount of the assessment is based on the type of error, e.g., for Full-Service errors, it is loss of the Full-Service discounts. Using the same example as above, there would be a loss of the Full-Service discounts on 1% of the mailpieces for the calendar month.

Assessment Process

When there are errors above the established thresholds for a calendar month, the USPS will issue an Invoice Report via email notification for the assessment. This invoice report will be sent to the Verification Assessment Evaluator (VAE) designated for the PostalOne! account. That VAE is then responsible to review the invoice report and either make arrangements for payment of the assessment, or request a review by the USPS if the assessment is in dispute. The payment or the request for review must be made within 10 days of receipt of the email notification.

Preparing for Assessment

Mailers should be monitoring their Mailer Scorecard data NOW so that any problem areas can be addressed prior to the implementation date of the assessments. Also, mailers should be working on developing their procedures for handling the invoice reports, assessment payment and USPS review requests so that when this is all implemented, mailers will be able to handle these in a timely manner.

Resources

Window Book has many utilities available to assist mailers with Mailer Scorecard errors, such as our DAT-MAIL™ software, which allows users to make edits to the Mail.dat files to either prevent or correct errors. Also, our automated PostalOne! transmission utility, EDM10X™, which not only automates the transmissions, but its QuickFix capability allows for quick, easy correction of errors. And, we offer tailored consulting services, including on-site services, to help mailers better understand their Mailer Scorecard data and how to improve their scores.

Window Book’s newest smart postal solution, PostalWeb™, completes the PostalOne! automation circle by providing easy downloading of finalized PostalOne! postage statements directly to your servers, and includes options for email notifications and even emailing of these finalized postage statements! And now available: automatically download your barcoded confirmation pages!

Gifts of Friendship Forever stamps issued in U.S. and Japan

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service and Japan Post jointly issued Gifts of Friendship Forever stamps today, celebrating the American issuance during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.

Descendants of Lee’s Surrender Dedicate Civil War Stamps

APPOMATTOX, VA — Tomorrow, nearly 150 years ago to the minute — two descendants of soldiers portrayed in an iconic painting depicting Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox will help dedicate the stamp depicting this historic event.

Maya Angelou receives stamping ovation

WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Ambassador Andrew Young and other notables joined Postmaster General Megan Brennan in dedicating the Dr. Maya Angelou Forever Stamp today. The ceremony took place before a capacity crowd at Washington, DC’s Warner Theatre. Angelou fans are encouraged to share the news on social media using the hashtag #MayaForever.

Multiple USPS Price Changes in 2015?

A while back, we sent you an eTip telling you about the rate proposal that was submitted by the United States Postal Service® (USPS®) to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). At that time, the planned implementation date for the proposed price changes was slated for April 26, 2015. Well, a lot has happened since that eTip, which has left mailers scratching their heads wondering what the heck is going on.

Price Proposals Approved and Remanded
When the PRC receives a rate case from the USPS, they have a number of options regarding their response. They can approve the proposal, in which case the proposed price changes become official and are implemented on the designated date. The PRC can also make their own proposed price changes, or make changes to the USPS proposed rates and return the case back to the USPS. The last alternative is for the PRC to return the rate case (also known as a “remand”) to the USPS for further review. In this current rate case, the PRC has made an unprecedented move by approving SOME of the proposed price changes and remanding the rest. In fact, the PRC has remanded most of the proposed price changes not just once, but twice! So, what does all this mean for mailers?

When Will the Prices Change?
That is the million dollar question! Let’s begin with a quick review of what’s happened up to this point.

On January 15, 2015 the USPS submitted two rate change proposals for consideration: one for Market Dominant/Mailing Services products and another for Competitive/Shipping Services products. “Market Dominant” products are those services over which the Postal Service has a legal monopoly, including First-Class Mail®, Standard Mail®, Periodicals, Package Services, and Special Services. “Competitive” products include Shipping Services such as Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, Parcel Select, and First-Class Package Service.

The PRC originally approved the First-Class changes, but remanded the rest of the market-dominant filing. The USPS then made changes and re-filed only to have the PRC remand them again. As time was ticking down on the 30-day window prior to April 26, 2015, the USPS announced last week that they would hold off implementing any new rates until ALL of the market-dominant changes are approved by the PRC. Whew! Breathing room. BUT – don’t get complacent. Though it is too early to know a new date right now, it is still conceivable that a May 31, 2015 date could be met. Stay tuned here for additional details as they become available!

A Price Roll-back?
Say what??? You read that correctly – there is a possibility that in addition to the price changes happening this Spring, there could be an actual price reduction sometime this Fall. You may recall in the postal rate case that took effect in January 2014, there was an element of that case that was termed an “exigency” increase. Under the postal reform act, the USPS is permitted to increase postal prices by no more than the amount of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The only exception to this is in exigent situations where the USPS costs or revenues, due to circumstances beyond their control, would require increases higher than the CPI. In the 2014 price increase, there was both the CPI component of the increase plus the exigent portion of the increase. The USPS claimed in that case that the downturn in the US economy was an exigent situation that caused their volumes and revenues to drop. Although the PRC approved the rate case, the legality of the exigency claim was questioned by many in the mailing industry and there is a case currently underway in federal court to come to a decision about the legality of the exigent portion of the increase.

If the court rules in favor of the USPS, pretty much nothing will change as far as mailers are concerned. However, if the court rules against the USPS, that means that the exigency portion of that rate change would need to be removed, which would essentially mean a roll-back on postal prices. A ruling is expected to be reached later this year, in time for this potential price roll-back to be implemented sometime in September.

Managing Price Changes
Mailers should be in close contact with their postal software providers to keep abreast of any updates on all of these possible pricing changes so that your software can be properly updated on a timely basis. The uncertainty of all of these changes makes it very challenging for software to be coded with the price changes and postage statement form changes in time for the implementation dates. Add to that the Mail.dat specification version change to 15-1, and it becomes even more complicated. Mailers need to be prepared to deal with last-minute software updates, as well as multiple mandatory software updates within a short period of time. Of course, all this uncertainty also wreaks havoc with postage budgets!

Resources
Window Book has many utilities available to assist mailers with these postal price changes. All postage calculations in all of our software applications are based on mailing date, which means users can be assured that their mailings will be calculated with the correct postal prices in place at the time the mailing is processed.

 Window Book’s newest smart postal solution, PostalWeb™, completes the PostalOne! automation circle by providing easy downloading of finalized PostalOne! postage statements directly to your servers, and includes options for email notifications and even emailing of these finalized postage statements! (Coming soon: automatically download your confirmation pages!)

USPS Kicks-Off National Card and Letter Writing Month with cool stamps

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service celebrates April as National Card and Letter Writing Month by issuing colorful Forever stamps sheets complete with decorative stickers for personalizing envelopes, letters and greeting cards.

Public invited to Maya Angelou stamp dedication on April 7 in DC

WASHINGTON — The public has an opportunity to witness a historic event on Tuesday, April 7 when Postmaster General Megan Brennan will be joined by Oprah Winfrey, Ambassador Andrew Young and other notables in dedicating the Maya Angelou Forever stamp in Washington, DC.

Martin Ramírez’s work honored on Forever stamps

NEW YORK CITY — The U.S. Postal Service will honor the work of Mexican artist Martín (pronounced Mar-teen) Ramírez tomorrow by placing five of his more than 450 dynamic drawings and collages on Limited Edition Forever stamps. The First-Day-of-Issue stamp dedication ceremony will take place Thurs., March 26, at 6 p.m. at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York City. The event is free and open to the public.

Water Lilies in full bloom at Post Offices today

CLEVELAND, OH — Spectacular photographs celebrate the beauty and elegance of water lilies with four new Forever stamps available nationwide today. The Water Lilies Forever stamps were dedicated at the Garfield-Perry March Party Stamp Show in Cleveland.

Improving Your Mailer Scorecard Results

Alright, alright, alright. So you’ve ramped up all your processes and systems for participation in Intelligent Mail Full-Service®, or at least for participation in eDoc. You’ve successfully submitted Mail.dat® files to PostalOne!® and have worked through the various validation errors or file rejections that you received when you first started this process.  So, you’re golden, right???  Well, not so fast….even if your files are successfully transmitted to PostalOne!, that does not necessarily mean there are not still errors in your files.  That’s right…errors can still exist, even if you don’t receive any error messages from PostalOne! How the heck are you supposed to find out what these errors are? That is where the Mailer Scorecard comes in.

Mailer Scorecard
Just like a report card back from your school days, the Mailer Scorecard tells you how you are doing as a mailer.  The Mailer Scorecard, available on the USPS® Business Customer Gateway, provides a wealth of information and reports on your electronically submitted mailings.  The Mailer Scorecard includes a Mailer Information tab, which includes all the data regarding your mail volumes, breaking it down by class of mail, processing category and so forth.  In addition, there are tabs for Full-Service validation, eInduction validation, and Seamless Acceptance validation.

On each of those tabs is detailed information on the items that PostalOne! is validating, including the validation results on your mailings.  The information on the Mailer Scorecard is tallied on a calendar month basis.  The data is even color coded to help you hone in on any problem areas.  For example, anything in green text means that your validation results have improved by 5% or more over the previous calendar month.  Text in red indicates that your validation results have declined by 5% or more over the previous calendar month.  And any items highlighted in yellow are areas where your mailings have exceeded the allowed error threshold.

For now, all of this data is informational only, intended to help mailers pinpoint areas where their mailings have quality issues so that mailers can take corrective action.  However, some time later this year, likely in July, the USPS plans to start implementing postage assessments for mail that exceeds the allowed error thresholds.  Bottom line, mailers need to be paying attention to their Mailer Scorecard results NOW so that any necessary process improvements may be made BEFORE those assessments kick in.

Common Mailer Scorecard Errors
One of the most common Mailer Scorecard errors for Full-Service validation is with the By/For information, which is the identification of the various entities involved in the mailing.  The “For” part of this equation is the Mail Owner, or the entity responsible for the content of the mailpiece and who ultimately benefits from the mailing.  The “By” part of the equation is the Mail Preparer (the entity physically preparing the mailing) and the eDoc Submitter (the entity submitting the Mail.dat files to PostalOne!).

All of these entities must be correctly identified in the Mail.dat files submitted to PostalOne! Typically, this identification is done using the Customer Registration ID (CRID) or Mailer Identification (MID).  There is a variety of fields in the Mail.dat file where this data may be populated, so it is very critical that mailers understand where these fields are located, how to get them correctly populated, and to make sure there are no conflicts with this data.  This, of course, assumes that you even have the correct CRID and MID data to begin with.  Luckily, the USPS offers search capability on the Business Customer Gateway, so that mailers may validate the CRID/MID information.  This search capability is provided for both individual searches and bulk searches, where files containing CRID or MID information for multiple clients may be submitted at one time for validation.

Correcting Mailer Scorecard Errors
Once you have analyzed the data available on your Mailer Scorecard, it is important to use this data to review your mailing process to determine where in your process these errors are occurring and make any necessary changes.  The Mailer Scorecard includes a “drill down” function that allows users to drill down to the specific mailing jobs with errors and then to the specific errors.  The Mailer Scorecard will provide error codes and a recommended solution. The error codes can also be looked up in the PostalOne! technical guides.

Some of the error messages, however, might be a little cryptic, so you may need to submit a ticket to the PostalOne! Help desk to ask for help in deciphering the error message and, more importantly, how to correct the error. Your presort and post-presort software vendors can also be helpful in this area.

Resources
The PostalOne! Help Desk is available to provide assistance to mailers who need help in understanding the Mailer Scorecard data and the various error messages.  They can also help you trouble-shoot errors in submitted Mail.dat files.  There is a guide available for making a request for more detailed Mailer Scorecard error data.

Window Book has many utilities available to assist mailers with improving their Mailer Scorecard results.  Our DAT-MAIL™ software provides easy access to make edits and corrections in Mail.dat files, particularly with regard to the often troublesome By/For data.  DAT-MAIL also includes a BCG Export and Import utility, both of which may be used to easily take advantage of the bulk search capability on the BCG for your clients MID, CRID, permit and Nonprofit Authorization data.  We also offer educational webinars on the Mailer Scorecard, and even offer FREE Mail Optimization Analyses to help you get your mailing operation optimized to submit mailings electronically.  We even provide on-site or remote consulting services to help you review your Mailer Scorecard results and help you pinpoint areas in your process where the corrections may be made.

Don’t miss out on our educational mailing webinars! Log on to our webinar registration site to sign up.

Window Book’s newest smart postal solution, PostalWeb™, completes the PostalOne! automation circle by providing easy downloading of finalized PostalOne! postage statements directly to your servers, and includes options for email notifications and even emailing of these finalized postage statements! (Coming soon: automatically download your confirmation pages!)