Postal Service needs voter support

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Letter to the Editor

The controversy over the Postal Service’s efforts to close the Rochester, Minn., Processing and Distribution Facility is being repeated in hundreds of American communities, as the USPS prepares to close more than half of the nation’s 460 mail processing centers.

In Rochester, and cities and small towns across the country, business owners, citizens, community leaders and elected officials have demanded that the USPS withdraw plans that will slow down mail delivery, kill jobs and hurt local economies.

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At public meetings to address community concerns, the Postal Service’s answer has been essentially the same: Facility closures are necessary to help solve the USPS financial “crisis.”

But the Postal Service is unable to substantiate projected savings, and many observers, including members of Congress – have charged that USPS estimates are wildly inflated. The original estimates put the USPS cost savings at $2.1 billion per year. But they have never disclosed that they also estimate revenue losses to be approximately $5.3 billion per year, due to customers finding alternate methods for transmitting information.

And the cost of plant closures will be high. The Postal Service announced Dec. 5 that massive closures will force USPS to eliminate overnight delivery for first class mail and periodicals, change next-day mail delivery to two days, and extend two-day delivery to three days.

Locally, closing the plant in Rochester means that residents and businesses may not receive bills, payments, prescriptions, online purchases and community newspapers on time.

We have been told that customers who get their prescription drugs mailed from Rochester to the 559 area will still receive overnight service, but we have not been told exactly how that will work. But residents who receive their drugs from the VA, or other entities like Merck-Medco will be subject to slower service. Small local newspapers that rely on USPS to deliver their publications will also see delayed service.

Nationally, dismantling the USPS distribution network will have a severe impact on companies that rely on the Postal Service to conduct business — to deliver bills and catalogues, return payments, distribute information about products and services, and deliver goods to customers. The Postal Service is at the heart of a $1 trillion private sector industry that employs 9 million people and generates more than $65 billion worth of postage annually.

Closing postal facilities also will have a devastating impact on millions of individual citizens who rely on the mail to connect them to their communities and the nation at large. Nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t have broadband internet access, and 28 percent of Americans have no internet access at all. About 55 percent of all consumers still receive hard — copy bills and statements.

Fortunately, the proposed closures are unnecessary. Congress created the problem, and Congress can fix it — with absolutely no cost to the taxpayers!

The cause of the Postal Service’s financial crisis is largely misunderstood. Although first-class mail has declined over the past four years, online bill payment and other forms of electronic communication are only a small part of the problem.

The primary cause of the Postal Service’s dire financial situation is a mandate imposed by Congress in 2006 that requires the USPS to “pre-fund” healthcare benefits for future retirees. This obligation drains $5 to $5.5 billion annually from postal accounts to fund a 75-year obligation compressed into a 10-year period. No other government agency or private business bears such a mandate. The same legislation does not allow for the Postal Service to raise the price of postage to recoup any of this cost. So, one must ask the owners of small businesses, “If your front end costs rose by between 8 percent and 9 percent, and you were prohibited by law from passing those costs on to your customers, how long would you be in business?” I suspect not long.

Were it not for the financial chokehold Congress created in 2006, the Postal Service would have netted a $611 million surplus during fiscal years 2006 to 2010 instead of racking up a $21 billion deficit.

In addition, due to previous miscalculations, the Postal Service has overfunded its retirement obligations by billions of dollars. The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees these accounts, has concluded that there is no provision in law to allow the Postal Service to reclaim these funds without Congressional authorization.

Unfortunately, the postal reform bill pending in the Senate (S. 1789) fails to adequately address the problems in its current form. Although the 21st Century Postal Service Act would reduce the level of retiree health care prefunding, the annual cost of prefunding would continue to impose significant debt on the USPS and would still result in the unnecessary cuts the Postal Service is planning. There are amendments pending to S.1789 that, if made part of the final legislation, would preserve six-day delivery, overnight service, return overfunding of retiree plans to the USPS, and increase oversight by the Postal Regulatory Commission regarding proposed closure or consolidation of any postal facility. Both Senators Klobuchar and Franken favor adoption of these amendments.

The bottom line? Congress must repeal the prefunding requirement, allow the USPS to recover overpayments to its retirement funds, and protect service to the American people. Please contact the offices of Senators Klobuchar (888-224-9043) and Franken (202-224-5641), and ask that they stand strong in support of the six amendments to S. 1789.

The USPS network is a vital part of the nation’s infrastructure. Destroying it will lead to the demise of the world’s largest, most efficient and most trusted mail system — one that the founding fathers expressly authorized in the Constitution of the United States.

The USPS receives no support from the taxpayers! It is mandated by law to run on revenue collected from postage, period.

Congress created the Postal Service’s financial crisis, and Congress must fix it — now.

Richard Haefner, President

Minn. Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, Rochester