Thursday, March 25, 2021

Putting the snail in mail -- March 25, 2021 column


Remember Save the Post Office Saturday?

The demonstrations weren’t huge, but thousands protested outside post offices last August against Postal Service cuts.

Democratic lawmakers, fuming that President Trump was trying to cripple mail service to discourage millions from casting ballots by mail, called for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump mega-contributor and appointee, to resign. He delayed the cuts.

It’s 2021 and Joe Biden is president. Crisis averted? Not exactly.

DeJoy still runs the post office, and Tuesday he announced a new round of cuts to save the financially struggling Postal Service.

The “Delivering for America” plan in brief: slower mail at higher prices. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that won’t sit well with the American people or Congress.

Instead of delivering first class letters in one to three days, as it tries to do now, the service wants a five-day goal. To save money, more mail would go by truck and less by plane. Perhaps horses weren’t available.

The plan would cut hours at post office windows, because Americans love to stand in line at the P.O. And it would raise mailing rates.

The agency has lost $87 billion over the last 14 years. The plan is supposed to reverse a projected loss of $160 billion over the next decade.

But to reduce service and raise prices at a time when many Americans already distrust government seems tone deaf at least. We need to build up our institutions, not make them less efficient and less customer-friendly.

The Postal Service consistently ranks as the country’s most popular government agency. An astonishing 91 percent of respondents last April had a favorable view of it – higher than any other federal agency, a Pew Research Center survey found.

Strictly speaking, the Postal Service is not run by the federal government; it’s an independent agency that receives no direct taxpayer funding, relying on revenue from stamps and other fees.

Its sterling reputation has been tarnished. Trump had a gripe against Amazon and wanted to force the Postal Service to raise shipping rates, and he wanted to cast doubt on the integrity of mail-in voting.

The Postal Service’s election performance was better than many expected. On average, the service said, it delivered ballots to voters in 2.1 days and from voters to election officials in 1.6 days.

The holidays saw a record 25% growth in the volume of shipping and packages, which resulted in highly publicized delivery delays. On the upside, shipping revenue rose $2.1 billion. The agency plans to focus more on its package business.

While many Democrats want Biden to fire DeJoy, the president lacks that authority. The postmaster general serves at the pleasure of the nine-member Postal Service Board of Governors for an indefinite period. DeJoy enjoys the support of Trump’s appointees on the board.

“Get used to me,” DeJoy told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last month.

Biden has nominated three people to fill board vacancies and replaced the head of the Postal Regulatory Commission, which sets postal rates and has other oversight authority, with his own nominee.

Mailing a letter in the United States costs less than in most other countries, DeJoy’s plan notes. Currently the “Forever” stamp for first-class letters costs 55 cents and a postcard stamp is 36 cents. The plan wants flexibility to raise rates but doesn’t say by how much.

The plan avoids some of the most unpopular cuts floated in the past. It keeps open most post offices, even in rural areas, and maintains mail deliveries six days a week and package deliveries seven days a week.

Raising the price of stamps won’t solve the Postal Service’s problems. Congress in a 2006 “reform” ordered the service to pre-pay its retiree healthcare program decades into the future.

 DeJoy’s plan calls for repealing the requirement and enrolling retirees instead in Medicare, saving $44 billion over 10 years. Congressional Democrats have legislation to do just that.

The Postal Service “binds our nation together in a way that no other agency or organization does,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Oversight committee at the hearing.

No other entity in the world has to pre-pay a benefit 75 years in advance, said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee, adding that Congress has an obligation to fix the problem it created.

It’s time Congress acted to restructure the Postal Service so it can provide its valuable services for decades to come. Email and texts have their place, but nothing can replace a letter.

©Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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