It’s time to fix the U.S. Postal Service and make it profitable
Published 2:18 pm Friday, October 22, 2021
United States Postmaster Louis DeJoy provoked the ire of many when he recently announced delays in service, which began Oct. 1 in an attempt to lower the department’s budget.
The postmaster general has said USPS can no longer meet its previous windows, pushing the maximum days for mail delivery sent in the continental United States from three days to five.
In August, meanwhile, it raised its rates for the first time in line with new authority it received last year, increasing prices well above the standard inflationary amount. The cost of first-class mail jumped by 6.8 percent, while package services increased by 8.8 percent. USPS also currently has in place additional holiday season surcharges.
There are no changes to the number of days the Postal Service is delivering mail. Delivery remains six days per week.
DeJoy predicted the Postal Service would generate between $35 billion and $52 billion over the next decade by raising prices, but its overhead will always be an issue.
Most of us are in the habit of checking our mailboxes each day. Bills that ensure shelter, heat and safety arrive and are paid through the mail. For many, medical prescriptions are delivered with the daily mail. And so are government checks.
We have to admit that over the past 246 years, there has been no greater bargain than the U.S. Postal Service, which for a few coins, could guarantee delivery of a letter to any address in the continental United States within a few days.
It was something that most of us took for granted — and something many find antiquated in these days of e-mail, online bill-paying and overnight delivery services.
And yet, there are still so many — particularly those living in rural America who don’t have the broadband or the means — dependent on the U.S. Postal Service to stay alive.
The Postal Service is absolutely essential. It’s as necessary today as it was when it was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1775.
And still, there are attempts to quash it, to do away with it by saying it no longer runs efficiently enough to be relevant in modern-day America.
Sadly, it is held to an unreasonable standard. It is expected to operate with clockwork efficiency while not losing money and be financially self-sufficient. But Congress sets rules that it must operate under, and some of those increase expenses. One of those rules schedules prepayment of retiree health benefits on a 50-year schedule.
These requirements are a huge burden, along with increased competition from privatized companies and fewer people opting to use “snail mail,” a moniker that fittingly describes Americans’ expectation of instant results.
Most government agencies aren’t expected to operate in the black. The services they provide and the lives they make better make them worth the expenditure.
Problems with the U.S. mail have been growing since the decades after World War II. With increases in the volume of mail but not in resources, the Post Office faced a financial crisis. In 1970, Congress transformed it to USPS, a government-business hybrid. USPS no longer receives tax dollars but still has congressional oversight.
Now Congress must use that authority to improve the postal service, beginning with the stated fact that the USPS is an essential public service to which all Americans are entitled. Recognizing the vast population who depend on the delivery of government checks, time-sensitive forms, life-sustaining medicine and other items, this shouldn’t be a bold or controversial opinion.
However, the USPS is set to run out of money later this year and may need federal support to avoid layoffs and further disruption of services. Those funds must be given if they are required but should be coupled with reforms about how the postal service operates.
That means more than adding a couple of cents to the price of a stamp. The Postal Service needs new thinking in a digital age about how to better serve its customers and perhaps even taking on other needed services.
Some critics say that USPS isn’t needed in an era when most people rely on email, texts and online financial dealings. That may be true for people with adequate resources and reliable internet. But USPS processes and delivers more than 472 million pieces of mail daily, and many Americans need its services.
By law, USPS must deliver mail to all U.S. postal addresses at the same rate. Even in the internet age, it’s still a lifeline for many Americans. Its ultimate purpose is to serve people, not to turn a profit.
Solutions won’t be simple, but it’s imperative that the Postal Service be given a wide berth — and Congress cooperate — as it tries to balance its essential service to the nation and its cost.