There’s a way to save Postal Service

Idaho State Journal Editorial

A lot of people who long ago stopped sending letters by mail now must confront the possibility that the U.S. Postal Service could — worst case scenario — go out of business within a year. That’s because the mail service lost $8 billion in 2010 alone, and prospects aren’t much better this year.
Under budget pressure, the number of post offices has been reduced from 38,000 to 31,000, and another 10 percent are on the chopping block.
The Bannock Station Post Office in Old Town Pocatello is among those targeted for closure. A meeting is scheduled Sept. 27 at the Hampton Inn in Pocatello to gather consumer input on that proposal.
Fortunately, there is a relatively simple solution to the dilemma besides ending delivery of mail on Saturday, or shuttering rural post offices. Postal officials want changes in the way they operate, including relief from the requirement that it prefund medical costs. No other federal agency has to prefund retiree health benefits, but because of the way the federal budget is organized the money counts as income to the government, so eliminating it would make the federal deficit appear larger.
When Congress restructured postal operations in 2006, it ordered the agency to establish a separate fund to begin covering those benefits, instead of using money from the post office’s general fund, starting in 2017, and to make annual advance payments to that account.
It costs the Postal Service about $5.5 billion annually to pay for the benefits ahead of time — a practice which other agencies are spared. That could be changed.
The Obama administration is asking lawmakers to give the Postal Service a 90-day extension to pay the billions in mandatory retirement payments due at the end of its fiscal year on Sept. 30. Also, the service wants to reduce mail delivery to five days a week, close 3,700 offices, further cut the workforce by up to 220,000 and to withdraw from federal retirement systems and set up its own.
The Postal Service has been stuck with the pejorative label of “snail mail” since the advent of email. But, slower or not, the service still delivers advertisements, newspapers, bills, and yes, charity appeals and first-class mail. The service is a self-funding entity drawing revenues from the sale of stamps and shipments. A shutdown would deal a staggering blow to the economy; with 500,000 employees, it is the second-largest employer in the country behind Wal-Mart. And it supports millions of other jobs in related industries. Gotta have it.
What’s that unofficial motto voiced by Herodotus in 503 B.C.?
“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Even email can’t do better than that.