Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Senators Take Action On Postal Service’s Congressionally Induced Woes

Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have introduced a bill in the Senate that seeks to save the Postal Service from financial collapse by restructuring the needless requirement that the agency pre-fund 75 years’ worth of employee health benefits, a requirement no other businesses or institutions face. The bill would also allow for a gradual end to Saturday mail service if financially necessary, as well as general door-to-door service, but would not mandate either steps.

The pre-funding requirement was a major factor in the USPS defaulting for the first and then second time in history last year. It would have a $1.5 billion surplus without it. Instead, it is now billions of dollars in the red.

Action on the Postal Service remains stalled in the House, however. Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) bill also changes the pre-funding requirement but requires the phasing out of Saturday service and calls for replacing door-to-door service with neighborhood cluster boxes. House Democrats oppose those service cuts and his bill was voted out of committee without Democratic support.

In February, the USPS announced that it would discontinue delivering first class mail on Saturdays in order to deal with the financial quandary imposed by Congress. But a month later, Congress voted against allowing it to cut down on delivery services, forcing it to keep delivering mail on Saturdays. The Postal Service is an independent agency, but a legal opinion from the Government Accountability Office found that it needs Congressional approval to change its budget or delivery schedule.

The USPS’s financial woes could end up having a big impact on economic inequality. Nearly 90 percent of Americans without broadband internet access live in rural areas, making mail an even more important method of communication. Yet past proposals for shuttering post offices would have disproportionately impacted these communities, which are also some of the poorest in the country.

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