THERE IS a lot of bile directed toward the United States Postal Services these days. Things other than snow, rain, heat or gloom of night seem to be keeping carriers from their appointed rounds.
(That motto, by the way, was lifted from something Herodotus wrote about the Persian postal service during the Greek–Persian unpleasantness of the 5th century BC. The Persians eventually lost the war, but the mail got through on time.)
Today the main impediment to acceptable postal service is not the weather. As is the case in so many things, it’s the money.
The Postal Service is deep in debt, leading to cuts in service. Much is written about the rampant inefficiency of the organization. Politicians and others blame incompetency, laziness and unions.
Give the USPS a break. Much of the red ink it’s hemorrhaging was produced by an act of Congress 14 years ago.
In 2006, a Republican-led Congress, with bipartisan support, passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. The act decreed that the USPS, unlike any other federal agency, had to create a $72 billion fund to pay for its workers’ post-retirement health care costs for up to 75 years in the future.
Without this requirement, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, the Postal Service would have had an operating profit for the six years leading up to 2019.
In 2019, 83 percent of the $8.8 billion loss came from those health care payments (that the USPS had to default on). In the current pandemic, and with the growth of digital mail, the losses continue to mount. The service will not be turning a profit as long as there is an internet.
Adding weight to that albatross around the agency’s neck is the fact that, in the early 1980s, the USPS was cut off from taxpayer-funded appropriations.
Why the USPS was singled out by Congress 14 years ago is open to conjecture, but the move has been a boon for private delivery companies and potential very bad news for most of the rest of us.
Studies continue to show that the vast majority of Americans support financial assistance to the Postal Service. A Pew Research Center survey back in April listed the USPS as Americans’ favorite federal agency.
Granted, that could be like calling it a tall midget, but 91 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the agency.
The Postal Service is, by definition, a service. Just as we don’t expect the military to turn a profit, we shouldn’t expect it of the agency on which hundreds of millions of Americans depend daily.
The USPS is not a slacker, wasting our money while not delivering the mail. It is an agency that has been hobbled by Congress. Whatever it takes—repealing that prefunding mandate or giving USPS a cash infusion—should be done.