Among the very worst ideas for “reforming” the United States Postal Service are proposals to end Saturday delivery and to shift from at-the-door delivery of mail to a scheme that would force Americans to go to collect letters and packages from central delivery spots.
Both approaches would diminish the scope and character of the postal service while increasing the likelihood that private firms will move in to fill the void.
These are the sort of ideas that are peddled by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Darrell Issa, R-California, and others who target the USPS for deep cuts. Unfortunately, they’ve turned up in the Obama administration’s budget.
As The Hill reports:
Obama’s budget would allow USPS to scrap all Saturday delivery—even packages, one of the most rapidly growing parts of the Postal Service’s business. USPS in recent months has shown more interest in expanding when it delivers packages, with Sunday delivery now in limited areas.
The White House budget would also allow USPS to move away from door-to-door delivery to more centralized delivery areas, an idea also panned by Democrats. Plus, USPS could keep a recent temporary increase in the price of stamps—which large mailers loathe—beyond the scheduled two years.
According to the Obama administration, these reforms—along with a proposal to tinker with some of the immediate requirements for pre-funding retiree healthcare benefits seventy-five years into the future—“would set USPS on a sustainable business path, providing it with over $20 billion in cash relief, operational savings and revenue through 2016.”
But that’s not how the people who deliver the mail, and who have battled to preserve the postal service, see it.
American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein says the administration budget echoes “misguided policies…for severe cutbacks that will harm service, drive away business, and eliminate jobs.”
“The budget fails to eliminate the pre-funding requirement of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which is the fundamental cause of the Postal Service’s manufactured financial crisis,” says Dimondstein, who adds that “with the Postal Service posting operating profits in mail and package delivery, there is absolutely no justification to continue a strategy of austerity. Rather than damaging the infrastructure and network that is essential for providing service, the Postal Service must expand service.”
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That’s a message that a new alliance of postal unions—the APWU, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association—wants to communicate to the president and his budget team. The unions offered this week to meet with the White House to discuss strategies for strengthening the postal service—from changes in shipping rules to the development of a postal banking system along lines proposed by US Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts.
But the first reform has to involve a realistic restructuring of that requirement to prefund retiree health benefits decades into the future.
“Our Postal Service is in need of true reform, not ill‐advised, counter‐productive attempts to slash service,” says National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association president Jeanette Dwyer. “By reworking the Postal Service’s funding of its retiree health benefits, an obligation which accounts for 80 percent of USPS losses over recent years and is forced on no other public or private entity, lawmakers could take the easiest and most sensible step toward getting this venerable institution back on the right page. Allowing the Postal Service to continue to innovate with same‐day parcel delivery and other services will provide a great opportunity to generate needed revenue and allow the USPS to remain a competitive player in the shipping and delivery industry. We need to grow our Postal Service not shrink it.”
Instead of borrowing ideas from members of Congress who want to downsize and dismantle the postal service, White House aides would be well to take the counsel of members who recognize the immense potential of the postal service.
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, have introduced a smart fix, the Postal Service Protection Act, which has 174 co-sponsors in the House and twenty-seven in the Senate.
Sanders begins with the basic premise that, “first, prefunding must end. The future retiree health fund now has some $50 billion in it. That is enough. This step alone will restore the Postal Service to profitability.”
But Sanders does not stop there. The senator and his allies argue that the “Postal Service should have the flexibility to provide new consumer products and services—a flexibility that was banned by Congress in 2006. It is now against the law for workers in post offices to notarize or make copies of documents; to cash checks; to deliver wine or beer; or to engage in e-commerce activities [like scanning physical mail into a PDF and sending it through e-mail, selling non-postal products on the Internet or offering a non-commercial version of Gmail].”
And, along with Senator Warren, Sanders is making the case for postal banking:
A recent report from the Postal Service Inspector General suggests that almost $9 billion a year could be generated by providing financial services. At a time when more than 80 million lower-income Americans have no bank accounts or are forced to rely on rip-off check-cashing storefronts and payday lenders, these kinds of financial services would be of huge social benefit.
That’s the right reform. The White House should rewrite the sections of its budget proposal relating to the postal service, reject austerity and embrace an agenda that it good for the USPS and the communities it serves.