January 4, 2017
Your readers were well-served by the piece on postal reform that ran Dec. 29. Given the importance of the U.S. Postal Service to residents and businesses in Carlsbad and throughout the large and diverse state of New Mexico, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some additional information and context.
The Postal Service delivers to 155 million homes and businesses from coast to coast, six and increasingly seven days a week. It’s based in the 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 84,825 New Mexicans.
Yet there is a surprising amount of public misunderstanding about this American treasure, such as the notion of an agency losing billions of dollars a year because of the Internet, making it the victim of ineluctable technological progress.
In fact, the Postal Service is operating in the black. USPS revenue exceeded operating expenses by $610 million in Fiscal Year 2016, bringing its total operating profit the past three years to $3.2 billion. Bear in mind that this is all earned revenue; by law USPS gets no tax dollars.
This impressive performance stems from two ongoing structural factors: As the economy gradually improves from the worst recession in 80 years, letter revenue is stabilizing. And as the Internet drives online shopping among Eddy County residents and beyond, package revenue is rising sharply (up 16 percent in 2016), auguring well for the future.
There is red ink but it has nothing to do with the mail and everything to do with 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.
Addressing this elephant in the room — pre-funding — is imperative given the Postal Service’s role in so many facets of American life, including in a state like New Mexico with its mix of cities, small towns and rural areas.
In many places, 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. With the generosity of New Mexicans and others, the recent 24th annual drive collected a record 80 million pounds of food.
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.
These are just some of the reasons why the Postal Service enjoys enthusiastic support from the public and from lawmakers across the political spectrum.
If New Mexico’s elected representatives in Washington act on practical, targeted postal reform that addresses pre-funding while preserving and strengthening the invaluable and profitable postal network – including maintaining door delivery – the Postal Service can continue to provide folks and businesses in Carlsbad and across the United States with the industrial world’s most affordable delivery services.