To help prevent a misinformed public from standing idly by while the U.S. postmaster general begins to dismantle the Postal Service, I offer the following facts and observations.
Debt troubles for the USPS began in 2006 when Congress enacted a mandate requiring the agency to transfer $5.5 billion annually from its operating budget into a future retiree health benefit fund. At the same time, Congress made it impossible for the agency to change its rate structure or enter new lines of business to pay for the mandate. The measure targeted no other federal agency or private firm — only the USPS, even though its future benefit accounts were already well funded and growing.
Congress thus manufactured a financial crisis for the USPS, made worse by the onset of recession shortly thereafter and the drop off in first-class mail. At least 80 percent of the current postal debt can be attributed to the pre-funding mandate, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers.
You may be surprised to learn that in its latest fiscal quarter, despite a slack economy, the USPS earned a profit of $100 million delivering the nation’s mail. It earned $17.7 billion in revenue against $17.6 billion in operating expenses. The profit was due largely to a jump in its package delivery and gains in efficiency. Many media outlets reported the quarterly results as a $1.3 billion loss for the Postal Service, without making it clear that the loss was due to the quarter’s $1.4 billion prefunding charge.
The Postal Service has received no taxpayer funding for more than 30 years and does not require a taxpayer bailout to overcome the financial crisis imposed on it by Congress. It requires that Congress remove the pre-funding mandate and allow the agency to rationally use its own funds.
Further, it needs to take the handcuffs off the USPS and allow it to innovate, to develop new services and products to support its constitutional mission to serve us all (rural and urban, rich and poor) with a dependable, universal and affordable postal service. It does not need a postmaster general who lacks an effective strategy to save and strengthen the system.
The postmaster general’s recent unilateral and unwise proposal to save money by cutting mail delivery to five days cannot be implemented without congressional approval. In the last Congress, a bipartisan majority of representatives co-sponsored legislation to maintain Saturday delivery. In the new Congress, Maine Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree have joined with others who are signing up to co-sponsor H.R. 30, which supports Saturday delivery.
In Maine and other rural states, small and home businesses predominate. My career experience as a city letter carrier leads me to believe that many of these businesses would be harmed by holding back their mail — remittances mostly — on Saturdays. Overwhelmingly, small businesses receive payment by mailed check. The Postal Service should not be allowed to slow the mail and disrupt that cash flow.
Even though I’m an avid Internet user, I rely on the Postal Service to deliver my driver’s license and plates, U.S. passport, triple-A membership card, car insurance card, health insurance card, credit card, W-2 and 1099 tax statements, checks, medicines, movies, magazines, greeting cards, personal letters, wedding and other invitations, thank you cards, scores of items purchased online, communications and tax bills from my town office and all my utility and credit card bills. I do not support a misguided service reduction that will slow down delivery.
The USPS is using misleading polling numbers to claim public approval for its action. A company spokesperson told the BDN on Feb. 7, “There have been multiple surveys done. … Upward of 70 percent supported the move to five-day delivery if that means there won’t be any taxpayer funding.”
The question is deceptive — there is no proposal in Congress to support the USPS with taxpayer funds. Results of opinion surveys always depend on how the question is phrased. What if pollsters had asked, “Would you support ending Saturday delivery if it led to the further dismantling of universal, affordable postal service and its replacement with a patchwork of expensive services offered by private firms?” I suspect that upwards of 70 percent of respondents would disapprove.
Further, the postmaster general’s claim that the cut will save the agency $2 billion is also unreliable and has been questioned by Sen. Susan Collins and others.
Strong and timely action is undoubtedly needed to save the USPS. That means ending the pre-funding mandate. It does not mean recklessly halting service, which will only shrink revenue and lead to further cuts, leading to even less revenue — a downward spiral ending in the death of the Postal Service.
John Curtis is a retired letter carrier who lives in Surry.