By Fredric Rolando – August 1, 2015
The growing problem of slower mail service in rural areas and small towns, the topic of a recent editorial in your paper by the National Newspaper Association, is a real one.
As mail processing centers are closed or consolidated, mail has to travel further to be sorted, and this means delays of the mail in parts of the country where mail service is critical to residents and businesses.
Some broader context may be useful — because the push to consolidate mail centers is only part of a broader attempt to degrade the quality mail service on which folks in Morris and elsewhere long have relied. Some in Washington also want to end Saturday mail delivery, which would prevent your small businesses from receiving weekend checks and orders, and end door-to-door delivery, compelling residents (in Minnesota’s weather, no less!) to traipse around neighborhoods daily in search of cluster boxes.
It’s important to note that these reductions in service would hurt Americans everywhere — from the smallest towns to the largest metropolitan areas.
The proposed cuts in service are based largely on the following premise: The Postal Service is losing billions of dollars a year because everyone’s on the Internet, plummeting mail volume produces massive red ink, so cuts in service are imperative.
That premise, however, is demonstrably false.
For starters, postal operations are profitable, and increasingly so. The Postal Service reported $1.4 billion in operating profits in Fiscal Year 2014, a figure already surpassed halfway through 2015.
Why? After dropping during the worst recession in 80 years, mail revenue is stabilizing amid an improving economy. Meanwhile, as folks in Stevens County and elsewhere shop online, skyrocketing package revenue makes the Internet a net positive — auguring well for the future. (This financial turnaround is occurring, of course, without a dime from taxpayers. Postal operations are financed by revenue earned selling stamps and services.)
There is red ink at the Postal Service, but it’s unrelated to the mail or the Internet — stemming instead from Washington politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service prefund future retiree health benefits. No other agency or company has to prefund for even one year; the Postal Service must prefund 75 years into the future and pay for it all over a decade. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.
Yet, some in Washington hope to use this artificial financial “crisis” to achieve something they’ve long sought — dismantling a popular public agency (enjoying 80-plus percent approval), even turning its duties over to private corporations.
To do so, they need to convince you that services you rely on are the problem — hence, that your mail must be slowed, your delivery days reduced, your door-to-door service ended.
But degrading postal networks that have returned to profitability is illogical. It would needlessly hurt residents and business owners. It would drive mail away, damaging the Postal Service’s bottom line. It would ignore the actual problem — the prefunding mandate. And it would cost Minnesota jobs. The national mailing industry, dependent on a robust, six-days-a-week Postal Service, employs 7.5 million Americans in the private sector — including 171,077 Minnesotans.
Still more’s at stake. The Postal Service, based in the Constitution, unifies this vast nation. It’s the largest employer of veterans. Every day on their routes, letter carriers protect people and neighborhoods — saving elderly residents who’ve fallen or taken ill, removing people from burning cars after accidents, finding missing children or stopping crimes in progress. In May, letter carriers again conducted the country’s largest single-day food drive, restocking food pantries in Morris and everywhere else.
Minnesotans should urge their congressional representatives to preserve the postal networks while addressing the prefunding fiasco. Then the Postal Service can continue to offer Americans the world’s most affordable delivery network.
Fredric Rolando is the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.