Opinion: Congressional politics hinders Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service delivers to 155 million homes and businesses from coast to coast, six and increasingly seven days a week. It is based in the U.S. Constitution, is consistently rated the public’s most-trusted federal agency, and delivers 47 percent of the world’s mail. 

It’s also the centerpiece of the $1.3 trillion national mailing industry, which employs 7 million Americans in the private sector, including 229,191 Georgians. 

Yet, there is a surprising amount of public misunderstanding about this American treasure. Given USPS’ importance to residents and businesses in Atlanta and throughout the large and diverse state of Georgia, with your metropolitan centers, rural areas and small towns, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some facts. 

For starters, the Postal Service generally operates in the black. USPS revenue exceeded operating expenses by $610 million in Fiscal Year 2016, for example, bringing its total operating profit the past three years to $3.7 billion. Operating profit for Fiscal Year 2017’s first quarter alone was $522 million. 

This is all earned revenue, from selling stamps and other products and services; by law USPS doesn’t get a dime of taxpayer money. 

As the economy gradually improves from the worst recession in 80 years, letter revenue is stabilizing. And as the Internet drives online shopping , package revenue is rising sharply (up 16 percent in 2016), auguring well for the future. 

There is red ink, but it stems from congressional politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. No other public agency or private company has to do this even one year in advance; USPS must pre-fund these benefits decades into the future. That $5.8 billion annual charge not only accounts for the “red ink,” it disguises the actual profits postal operations have been generating for years. 

This political mandate has created an artificial financial crisis at USPS that has led to the closing of postal processing facilities and the reduction of hours in some post offices, the slowing of mail and resulting frustration among businesses and residents. 

Addressing this elephant in the room — pre-funding — is imperative given the Postal Service’s role in so many facets of American life. 

In many places, including more than a few in Georgia, the post office is the center of civic life. It’s also the nation’s largest civilian employer of military veterans. Nearly one-quarter of letter carriers are wearing their second uniform. 

USPS and letter carriers play a key role in communities throughout the country. Every May, letter carriers conduct the largest single-day food drive to help replenish food banks, pantries and shelters from coast to coast. The timing is critical, because pantries are running out of food from their winter-holiday donations, and summer looms, a period when most school lunch programs don’t function. 

This year’s effort took place May 13 and marked the 25th annual food drive. We hope to do as well as last year’s, when generous Georgians contributed to a record 80.1 million pounds of food collected and donated to feed the hungry. 

Every day as they deliver mail on their routes, letter carriers help save the elderly or other residents who have fallen or experienced medical problems, put out fires, locate missing children, rescue people from burning cars after accidents or help stop crimes in progress. In fact, last year’s National Hero of the Year was a letter carrier from Snellville, who risked injury by fighting off an aggressive pit bull that had a little girl’s head in its jaws and was dragging her away. 

These are just some of the reasons why the Postal Service enjoys enthusiastic support from the public and from lawmakers across the political spectrum. Quality postal service has not been – and should not be – a partisan issue. 

The Postal Service, postal unions, key lawmakers and industry groups have coalesced around core legislative proposals that would address pre-funding while preserving and strengthening the invaluable postal networks. 

If Georgia’s elected representatives in Washington act on such targeted reform legislation, the Postal Service can continue to provide folks and businesses in the Peach State and across the country with the industrial world’s most affordable delivery services.

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


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