It’s time to speak up for Postal Service

By Fredric Rolando

Your newspaper has done an exemplary job covering the efforts by local political leaders to fight the U.S. Postal Service’s ill-advised efforts to degrade mail service in eastern Idaho (not to mention in numerous other regions across the country).
And the political leaders in your region should be commended for their willingness to stand up for the best interests of the families and businesses they represent by stopping service cuts that would hurt the region and cost jobs. As you noted, they’re trying to enlist Idaho’s representatives in Washington in this effort.
Your March 22 story, however, contained a comment suggesting the Postal Service could avert the cuts if it slowed down “repayment of their retirement plan debts.” That implies that the Postal Service would need special treatment to stop the cuts — special treatment in the form of a pass from repaying normal retiree obligations.
In fact, the opposite is true — the Postal Service is being forced to do something no other entity in the country has to do. Understanding this is key to understanding why folks in eastern Idaho face the loss of critical services.
The Postal Service doesn’t need special treatment — it just needs the same treatment every other company or agency receives. Instead, it gets a type of unique treatment that has caused the very problems your local officials seek to prevent — including the potential closing of the Pocatello mail processing plant in April.
In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. Consider this: No one else is required to pre-fund for even one year. But the Postal Service has to cover costs 75 years into the future and pay for it all over a 10-year period. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.
So it’s not that letter carriers and others who want to maintain strong postal services want a special deal for the Postal Service. On the contrary, we want an end to the special — and unfair — treatment USPS now gets. All the more because USPS already has put aside $50 billion for future retiree health benefits, meaning those costs now are covered for several decades ahead — something few if any agencies or businesses can say.
Were it not for this onerous pre-funding charge, the narrative would be of a federal agency that, without a dime of taxpayer money, facing a still soft economy as well as the challenges of the Internet that have led to online bill-paying, is highly profitable. And people in eastern Idaho would be looking forward to better and faster mail service.
As your story noted, the Postal Service had an operating profit of more than $1.3 billion in just the first few months of Fiscal Year 2015. And that follows fiscal 2014’s $1.4 billion operating profit.
Don’t be fooled by those who claim the pre-funding issue is a red herring because in recent years the Postal Service hasn’t been able to make those payments. It’s true that sometimes those annual charges haven’t been paid – but it’s also irrelevant to the point I’m making. Whether it’s paid or not in a given year, the annual $5.6 billion goes on the ledger sheet as a charge — creating the manufactured ‘red ink’ that some in Washington now hope to exploit in a bid to deprive Americans of postal services they’ve long relied on and continue to need and deserve.
Making this all the more problematic is that the reductions in service the Postal Service and some lawmakers are pushing — closing your mail processing plant and 81 others, ending Saturday mail delivery or replacing door-to-door delivery with ‘cluster boxes’ in the neighborhood — wouldn’t only hurt residents, they’d also hurt the Postal Service itself.
That’s because they’d drive away mail and revenue from an agency that supports itself by earning its own money.
And they’d cost jobs in the Gem State, where 62,923 residents have private-sector jobs in the mailing industry that depends on a strong, six-day-a-week Postal Service. Meanwhile, 273,033 Idahoans work for small businesses, which would see costs rise if they had to contract with private carriers to receive checks on weekends.
This is the time for people in eastern Idaho and throughout your beautiful state to speak out about preserving your postal services. If Idaho’s representatives in Washington hear you, if they apply their common sense, if they focus on the best interests of the residents and business owners they represent — if they simply consider the facts — they will work to strengthen the postal networks and to remedy the problems that Congress itself caused.

Fredric Rolando is the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.