Opinion | Democrat or Republican, you probably like the post
Last year, amid a presidential election campaign and a pandemic, the U.S. Postal Service was politicized by President Donald Trump and his administration like never before. Critics accused Postmaster General Louis DeJoy of making changes to mail delivery to increase Mr Trump’s chances of re-election, a charge he vehemently denied.
This year, the Postal Service returned to its traditional role of being the one thing in Washington that Democrats and Republicans can reliably agree on. It’s heartwarming to see lawmakers from both parties lining up behind the Postal Service Reform Act of 2021 – legislation introduced in the Senate and House that would help bring mail into the 21st century.
It’s no secret that the rise of email, e-commerce, and electronic payments has created an existential crisis for the Post, which has united the nation for more than 245 years. The volume of first-class mail has dropped. From 2007 to 2020, it decreased by 45%. Domestic mail revenues fell 36 percent – to $ 38.7 billion from $ 60.6 billion – during the same period, reducing the Postal Service’s ability to fund its own operations. A chorus of voices, including those from this editorial board, have called for cutting service in various ways to meet rising costs and falling demand. More radical critics have called for the total privatization of mail delivery.
Privatization is a bad idea. The Postal Service is arguably the only government agency that exists in every neighborhood in America – rural and urban, rich and poor. It has an enviable infrastructure that includes the largest truck fleet in the country and the most physical storefronts. It remains among the most trusted and popular government agencies. Many people depend on the post office to receive life-saving medicines and social security checks. To privatize its functions would waste something precious that we all share. Any downsizing must be carried out with the utmost care.
Mr DeJoy’s 10-year plan for the agency, announced in March, aims to address the cash drain in part by increasing rates and streamlining service, in some cases by cutting hours and employees. The Postal Service announced on Friday that a first-class stamp would cost 58 cents, down from 55 cents, as of this summer
Some rate reductions and increases are necessary. But what the post office really needs is to rethink. An alliance of more than 80 national organizations, including the American Postal Workers Union, has put forward a proposal to use existing infrastructure in new ways – anchoring the expansion of broadband access in rural areas or verifying the elderly and disabled for whom the courier porters are the only point of daily human contact. The alliance’s plan also includes expanding the provision of financial services, such as affordable check cashing, which could be vital in underserved areas. A 2015 report from the Inspector General’s Office of Postal Services estimates that these services could provide significant help to 68 million Americans who do not have a bank account or who rely on expensive payday loan programs to cash out. checks. The Postal Service was already the largest provider of paper money orders in the country, and it offered savings accounts to customers until the late 1960s. The Inspector General’s report estimated that the expansion of these services would generate approximately $ 1 billion in new revenue per year.
The Postal Service Reform Act would not explicitly allow this type of expansion, but it would leave the door open for experimentation by including a provision allowing for greater cooperation with state and local governments to offer non-postal products. on their behalf.
The bill would also put the Postal Service on a stronger financial footing by removing a 2006 Congressional requirement that the agency set aside large sums of money to cover the cost of employee post-retirement health benefits. 75 years in the future. It is unreasonable to force the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree benefits which is far ahead of us, which no other entity – public or private – should do. The bill would also require the Postal Service to enroll all of its employees in Medicare when they are eligible, which would significantly reduce the agency’s health care costs. Although letter carriers pay taxes to Medicare – and are the second largest contributor to Medicare in the country – Medicare enrollment is voluntary for retirees.
These changes, at Mr. DeJoy’s request, would help end the agency’s financial drain, which has been operating at a loss since 2006. This would save about $ 45 billion over 10 years, freeing up money. money to make essential investments in modernization. A separate postal reform bill includes $ 8 billion to manufacture the majority of electric vehicles in postal trucks, which would be a huge step forward in reducing emissions. It’s a plan that can be adopted by both environmental activists and companies like Amazon, which ships packages through the postal service. As Amazon brings more shipments in-house, the potential loss of revenue for the Postal Service poses a challenge that needs to be addressed creatively and collaboratively with other companies that could fill the void.
Much remains to be done to bring the US Postal Service into the digital age. But it is a step in the right direction. The Post has always been able to adapt to technological changes – from the express pony to the advent of airmail. It will be able to adapt again, if Congress allows it to invest in itself and innovate.