Bills Introduced To Provide “Free-Mail-To-Troops” Postage Benefit

Legislation—H.R. 704 (and the identical H.R. 2126) and H.R. 707—has been introduced in the 111th Congress to establish a free-mail-to-troops postage benefit. Each of these bills would provide members of the Armed Forces serving overseas with free-postage vouchers every month. Recipients of these vouchers would be able to transfer them to family members or other persons in the United States, who then could use the vouchers to mail a letter or package to the troops postage-free. Both of these bills have been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services’.

According to the a CRS Report sent to Congress:

Members of the Armed Forces on duty in designated combat areas can send personal correspondence, free of postage, to addresses in the United States.

However, there never has been a comparable policy to permit individuals in the United States to send letters and packages to troops serving overseas. That said, the federal government does subsidize the postage an individual pays to send mail to troops. A sender is charged only for the cost of the domestic portion of the delivery—the Department of Defense pays the cost to move the mail from the United States to troops overseas. Additionally, since October 2008 the U.S.  Postal Service has offered a discounted package service to families wishing to send packages to members of the Armed Services stationed overseas.

Subcommittee on Military Personnel

Similar legislation was introduced in the 110th and 109th Congresses, but failed to be enacted for reasons unclear.

The potential cost of either H.R. 704 (and the identical H.R. 2126) or H.R. 707 to the federal government is unknown. The Congressional Budget Office has not published a score of either bill, and neither piece of legislation details the means through which the postage benefit is to be administered. Nor do the bills place any restrictions on the dimensions of a package that may be shipped with a voucher, although the shape of a package significantly affects the U.S. Postal Service’s costs to deliver it.

Like earlier bills, both H.R. 704 and H.R. 707 would provide one free-postage voucher per month to each “qualified individual” in the Armed Forces. Each voucher would provide free postage on letters weighing up to 13 ounces or packages weighing up to 15 pounds. The DOD would provide advance transfers of funds to the USPS to cover the Postal Service’s costs in delivering the mail to the APOs and FPOs. H.R. 704 and H.R. 707 would authorize this postage benefit for one year.

Though similar, H.R. 704 and 707 differ in two significant ways.

(1) H.R. 704, Sec. 2(b) defines a “qualified individual” as a member of the Armed Forces of the United States on active duty (as defined in section 101 of title 10, United States Code); and … serving in Iraq or Afghanistan … or … hospitalized at a facility under the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces of the United States as a result of a disease or injury incurred as a result of service in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, H.R. 707, Sec. 2(b) defined a “qualified individual” as “a member of the Armed Forces described in subsection (a)(1) of section 3401 of title 39, United States Code, who is entitled to free mailing privileges under such section.” This definition of “qualified individual” may be broader than the definition included in H.R. 704 because 39 U.S.C. 3401(a)(1) includes an individual who is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States on active duty, as defined in [10 U.S.C. 101], or a civilian, otherwise authorized to use postal services at Armed Forces installations, who holds a position or performs one or more functions in support of military operations, as designated by the military theater commander…

(2) H.R. 704 does not define who may use a postage voucher. H.R. 707, Section 2(e) would permit qualified individuals to transfer a voucher to “a member of the family of the qualified individual, a nonprofit organization, or any other person selected by the qualified individual for use to send qualified mailings to the qualified individual or other qualified individuals.”

The report will be updated updated to reflect significant legislative action.