For 100 days I have been trying to bring awareness to the struggles of the United States Postal Service. The situation has only gotten worse.
Throughout its history, the post office has suffered times of financial crisis. The advent of the internet (thanks, Al!) continues to deliver blows to the service as fewer people send first class mail. Online bill pay and email have largely replaced first class mail, but not entirely. You may receive paychecks, social security checks, income tax refund checks, stimulus checks, virus relief checks, birthday cards, holiday cards, and more via first class mail. People in rural areas with spotty or no internet access depend on first class mail.
In 2006, congress passed, and GW Bush signed, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. You can read about it here on congress’s website to get the full, unbiased account of what the bill entails. You can read a less legalese-y (but, of course, subject to the biases of the authors/contributors) account of the bill at Wikipedia.
For my purposes, I’d like to focus on this part of the bill:
Establishes in the Treasury the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund, to be administered by OPM. Requires the Postal Service, beginning in 2007, to compute the net present value of the future payments required and attributable to the service of Postal Service employees during the most recently ended fiscal year, along with a schedule [of] annual installments which provides for the liquidation of any liability or surplus by 2056. Directs the Postal Service, for each year, to pay into the above Fund such net present value and the annual installment due under the amortization schedule. Makes OPM actuarial computations subject to PRC review.
In other words, the USPS has been forced to pre-pay employee benefits each year since 2007. The idea here was that, by the end of 10 years (2017), the USPS would have paid enough money to the US Treasury to cover employee benefits for 75 years into the future. The service continues to pay.
This has been devastating to the service. Approximately 80% of the USPS’s losses since 2007 have been a result of this requirement.
On December 3, 2019, Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, sponsored the USPS Fairness Act. The proposed legislation would get rid of the prefunding requirement. The proposal was sent to the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee where it has sat, untouched. The chair of that committee is Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin. The ranking minority member of the committee is Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan (according to the committee’s website; a news source says Tom Carper is the ranking minority member). Other members are (majority) Rob Portman (OH), Rand Paul (KY), James Lanford (OK), Mitt Romney (UT), Rick Scott (FL), Michael Enzi (WY), Josh Howley (MO), (minority) Thomas Carper (DE), Margaret Wood Hassan (NH), Kamala Harris (CA), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), and Jacky Rosen (NV).
The CARES Act of March 2020 included a loan of up to $10 billion to the USPS.
On April 24, President Trump held a signing ceremony for the Paycheck Protection Act and the Healthcare Enhancement Act. During that ceremony, Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made comments about the postal service and spoke about provisions that would have to be given by the USPS before any loan or aid would be forthcoming. You can read the words directly on the White House website here. Please note that this link is not to a media source but to the White House website, which is run by the Trump administration. I have copied and pasted the part regarding the USPS at the end of this post.
In May of 2020, President Trump appointed Louis DeJoy Postmaster General. DeJoy assumed the office on June 16. You can read all about DeJoy here. He is a business man with no postal service experience. He is a well known Republican campaign contributor.
The president of the National Association of Letter Carriers congratulated DeJoy on the appointment, but made a point of mentioning the need to keep politics out of the postal service. You can read his statement here.
In July, DeJoy issued a memo to all postal employees outlining changes to be implemented immediately to try to help reduce operational costs. I have not been able to find a verified copy of the memo (I have a PDF, but there is nothing on it to prove where it comes from or if it is a copy of the actual memo). This article describes it. The steps outlined in the memo are largely believed to be an attempt to sabotage the postal service.
On July 20, 2020, members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to DeJoy asking about some of the postal service changes. I have not been able to find a response or if one was given. They sent another letter on July 30.
On August 12th, Senate Democrats issued a press release containing the contents of a letter sent to PMG DeJoy expressing concerns over a statement by the USPS that it would no longer prioritize election mail as it has in the past. On the same day, 184 members of the House of Representatives (including a whopping 4 Republicans) signed yet another letter to DeJoy.
The postal service is about so much more than boxes full of “junk mail.” Every day (except Sundays and holidays), a letter carrier stops by your business and residence to deliver mail and see if you have outgoing mail — and this costs you nothing (the USPS is 0% taxpayer funded). The USPS takes mail where commercial carriers won’t go. The USPS delivers (at a low cost) prescription medication to people who would otherwise have no way of getting it. In some rural areas, banking (to a degree) can still be done at post offices (people can get money orders there to pay for rent and other bills). The politicizing of the postal service is an outrage and should not be allowed to continue.
Q Do you support any money for the Postal Service?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: So, I can comment on that, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead. Postal Service.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: So, we authorized in the last CARE Act over $10 billion of a loan. My team is already actively working on that with the Postal Service, if they need the money. And we’re dealing with that.
THE PRESIDENT: The Postal Service is a joke because they’re handing out packages for Amazon and other Internet companies. And every time they bring a package, they lose money on it. So Amazon and other Internet companies and delivery companies are dropping all of their — not all of them, but a big portion of packages, and whatever else they’re doing, into a post office. And the post office is supposed to deliver the packages, and they lose a lot of money.
The post office should raise the price of a package by approximately four times. Because they don’t raise them. For some reason — these people have been in there a long time. But for some reason, they’re very cozy with some of these companies, and they don’t raise the price of a package. And if they raise the price of a package, like they should, four or five times that’s what it should be — or let Amazon build their own post office, which would be an impossible thing to do because the post office is massive and serves every little piece of the country. The post office, if they raised the price of a package by approximately four times, it’d be a whole new ball game.
But they don’t want to raise because they don’t want to insult Amazon and they don’t want to insult other companies, perhaps, that they like. The post office should raise the price of the packages to the companies, not to the people — to the companies. And if they did that, it would be a whole different story.
Do you agree with that, Steve?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I do. And, actually, we are going to put certain criteria for our postal reform program as part of the loan, and we’re looking forward to — the board is — recruiting a new Postmaster General and doing postal reform.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ll go a step further. If they don’t raise the price of the service they give — which is a tremendous service and they do a great job, and the postal workers are fantastic, but this thing is losing billions of dollars; it has for years. Because they don’t want to insult — for whatever reason, you could imagine — they don’t want to insult Amazon and these other groups.
If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything. So they’ll raise the price so that they become maybe even profitable, but so they lose much less money. Okay? And if they don’t do it, I’m not signing anything and I’m not authorizing you to do anything.