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H.R. 4976 (116th): Supply Our Soldiers Act of 2019


Should you have to pay postage when mailing letters or items to soldiers in combat areas overseas?

Context

Armed forces members in combat zones can send mail to the U.S. for free, but the reverse isn’t true. Family members, friends, or anyone else pays postage when sending letters or packages to soldiers overseas.

While the Defense Department covers the cost of shipping from the U.S. to the foreign nation, the sender still must cover the domestic transportation cost to one of five U.S. “gateway” sites: Chicago, Miami, Newark, New York, and San Francisco.

What the bill does

The Supply Our Soldiers Act would make all mail sent to armed services members serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “other designated hostile fire areas” free of charge.

It was introduced in the House on November 1 as bill number H.R. 4976, by Rep. Pete King (R-NY2).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that communication is vital to morale for the troops, and we should do anything we can to make that easier and less expensive.

“While our soldiers do not have to pay for the letters they send home, their families often spend hundreds of dollars to send care packages and letters of their own,” Rep. King said on the House floor when introducing a previous iteration in 2011. “The program… would provide soldiers serving active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan [the opportunity to] transfer to their loved ones to send letters and packages to these soldiers at no cost.”

What opponents say

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition. But while the bill’s current version has not yet been given an official cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO did estimate a 2005 version would cost $30 million.

Opponents may also counter that it’s a solution in search of a problem. Since the overseas shipping is already paid for by the government, any American’s cost is only for domestic shipping — which can run as low as 55 cents for a standard postage stamp.

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted six bipartisan House cosponsors: five Democrats and one Republican. It awaits a potential vote in the House Armed Services Committee.

In theory, the bipartisan nature should make it likely for passage. However, the legislation has been introduced in every congressional session since 2005, without passage. The closest it came was a 2005 approval by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, but without receiving a vote by the full House.

In fact, since Rep. King took over the lead sponsorship in 2009, cosponsorship has dropped: 36 cosponsors in 2009seven cosponsors in 2011six cosponsors in 201310 cosponsors in 201512 cosponsors in 2017, and six cosponsors to date in 2019.

Last updated Nov 29, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Nov 1, 2019.


Supply Our Soldiers Act of 2019

This bill provides postal benefits to certain active duty service members. It directs the Department of Defense to provide for a program under which vouchers (used for postal-free mailings) are provided to members of the Armed Forces who are on active duty and who are either (1) serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, or another hostile fire area designated as eligible for hazardous duty pay; or (2) hospitalized at a military medical facility as a result of such service.

The benefits program shall apply during FY2020-FY2025.