Direct marketers take note: For the first time in three years, the postal service plans to raise the price of postage. Though nothing has been finalized, a proposal circulating on Capitol Hill would result in a 5.4% across-the-board rate hike in early January. That would raise the price of a first-class stamp from 37 to 39 cents.

An increase has been expected for some time to cover deficits that are rising as e-mail continues to eat into overall volume. The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina has only made the matter more pressing. The USPS faces increased costs from repairing damaged facilities and from processing thousands of address forwarding requests to places like the Houston Astrodome. There has also been a steep drop in the volume of mail that would normally have come through New Orleans. For those reasons, Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president at the Direct Marketers Association, reports that the industry trade group is not opposed to a rate hike. The DMA is lobbying Congress, however, to delay the hike until after the holiday mailing (and returns) season wraps up in March.