By Molly O'Toole
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans will soon be stamping their mail with the faces of living figures, the United States Postal Service said on Monday.
The new rule for honoring individuals on stamps replaces a former policy requiring a person to be dead at least five years before being memorialized on postage, reduced from 10 in 2007.
"The rule is changed as of today," Stephen Kearney, USPS Executive Director of Stamp Services, told Reuters Monday morning. "And we hope to have at least the first living subject on a stamp in 2012."
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a statement Monday, "This change will enable us to pay tribute to individuals for their achievements while they are still alive to enjoy the honor."
Living or recently deceased persons could be on a stamp as soon as mid- to late-2012, said Kearney.
Last year USPS sold 12.5 billion stamps, 700 million of which were commemorative, according to Kearney.
He said the USPS thinks the move "will take stamps, which are already important and relevant to a lot of people ... and get more people involved, particularly young people."
The Postal Service is inviting members of the public to submit their top five choices for living individuals they would like to see on a stamp via social media sites Facebook and Twitter -- and, "as always," according to the USPS site, by mail.
The new stamp policy comes as personal mail use declines and budgetary obstacles mount for the Postal Service.
Senator John McCain unveiled a bill on Friday to revamp the USPS, including an end to Saturday mail delivery. The USPS has said it faces default on a $5.5 billion retiree health payment due on September 30.
Lawmakers were expected on Monday to take up a continuing budget resolution that includes a measure to extend the payment's due date until mid-November.
Kearney said the USPS makes over $200 million a year from stamp collecting.
"But it's not the main reason to do it," Kearney said. "(It's) serious money, but a fairly small proportion of the financial situation we're in."
The Postmaster General's Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee -- a group of individuals of various expertise -- make subject recommendations and take stamp suggestions annually.
Each year, the committee receives as many as 40,000 suggestions for the next face of U.S. postage.
"Things like this are fun," Kearney said. "It makes me wonder why we've waited so long to do more things like that."
(Editing by Jerry Norton)