(September 30, 2014) Things are not looking good for the U.S. Postal Service.
It posted a $2 billion loss for the quarter that ended June 30 – even after increasing its prices, and revenue, significantly. The independent agency has been struggling for years, and it’s only getting worse. During the same quarter last year, for instance, it lost “only” $740 million.
A postal reform bill is desperately needed. Unfortunately, the bills proposed in Congress so far would have gutted the agency’s essential services, and thus have died well-deserved deaths.
A successful postal reform bill would retain the delivery schedule and services that Americans rely on – especially the 60 million Americans who live in rural places where the U.S. Postal Service is the only reliable way to obtain prescriptions, medical supplies and other vital shipments. And U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is just the person to introduce such a bill, having helped Montana retain its post offices after the Postal Service proposed closing down several in the state just a couple of years ago.
Indeed, the Postal Service itself would still like to end Saturday delivery and shut down or consolidate some mail processing centers and offices. But more than anything, it would like to rid itself of its congressional mandate to fund future retiree health benefits – to the tune of $5.7 billion. Somehow, it was supposed to come up with the money to pay this bill by the end of September – today. No surprise, the Postal Service says that it will be unable to do so.
This despite a postage increase this year that was more than three times the rate of inflation. After upping its prices, the Postal Service saw an increase in shipping and package services revenue of 6.6 percent. Its increase in the price of first-class mail more or less offset the loss in volume. But total operating expenses, and compensation and benefits expenses, increased as well.
Fortunately, last week, the National Newspaper Association announced that it is “working closely” with Tester to “get a postal reform bill passed in THIS session that will stop the Postal Service from further degrading mail service,” according to NNA CEO Tonda Rush. No bill has been introduced just yet, but the NNA reports that Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri has agreed to sign on as a co-sponsor with Tester.
Newspapers like the Missoulian have a special interest in postal reform, of course. The increased prices for mailed subscriptions don’t make our readers happy, and curtailments in mail delivery service erode the ability of newspapers to reach our customers.
Just two years ago, the Postal Service was set to close hundreds of post offices and mail processing centers, including some in Montana – and Missoula. Now, the USPS is moving ahead with plans to close another 80 facilities. Thankfully, none of these are in Montana – yet.
Currently, Montana counts 328 post offices to serve our rural and urban residents alike. Those residents who have experienced a problem due to disrupted mail delivery or service slowdowns in the past couple of year ought to seize this chance to share their story with Tester so he can use it as ammunition in the fight for meaningful postal service reform.
And while they’re at it, they should also thank him for taking up this fight. It’s of real concern to all Montanans, as well as to the millions of other Americans who live in rural areas.
Of course, Montanans could send a fax or email to Tester’s office. But to really drive home the point, we suggest you mail your comments via the United States Postal Service. Write to Office of Senator Jon Tester, 706 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510-2604.