Chip Hutcheson: We count on the mail, but the Postal Service is in trouble
I got the mail today.
A couple of bills. A greeting card. Some catalogs. A newspaper. One package that my wife grabbed right away. (Wonder what that was?)
Lately, it occurs to me how completely I take for granted that I will get the mail tomorrow.
I've had my share of gripes about the mail. As president of the National Newspaper Association, I have fielded our community newspaper members' postal concerns all year. The mail is slower than it used to be. The U.S. Postal Service slowed it down by a day, at least, because of financial problems. Newspaper subscribers are unhappy because too often their papers are arriving late. Some local businesses have had problems with cash flow because of late mail.
Still, I get the mail every day but Sunday. Bet you do, too.
If you follow the news, you know the U.S. Postal Service is in trouble. Because so many people and businesses use the internet, there isn't as much mail to deliver. But we still expect the mail to come. At my newspaper, we look for it on Saturdays, too, because weekend mail is extremely important in small towns. (Congress considered ending Saturday mail, but thankfully it has dropped that idea for now.)
Beneath the surface, however, we see seismic, economy-rattling changes ahead unless Congress can pass legislation to lower the Postal Service's cost of doing business. It carries more than $50 billion of debt on its balance sheet. Fortunately, there are bills by Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, and Elijah Cummings, D-MD, and several other House members, and by Sens. Tom Carper, D-DE, Claire McCaskill, D- MO, Mark Warner, D-VA, Roy Blunt, R-MO, Jerry Moran, R-KS, and Susan Collins, R-ME, that would do the job. Passing these bills is easier said than done. You may have noticed Congress is having a hard time these days getting anything passed.
This is what the bills have to fix.
A 2006 law imposed a requirement to put advance funding into a federal retirement health plan for postal workers. Other agencies don't do advance funding. They are on a pay-as-you-go system. That requirement began to cripple USPS within a year or two after its passage. What the 2006 law didn't do was relieve USPS of also contributing to Medicare for the same workers, which many do not use. So there are two plans for many workers, when only one is used. USPS has to double-pay, which is another way of saying you double-pay every time you buy stamps, for a total of about $29 billion now paid into the Federal Treasury. The Chaffetz-Cummings and Carper bills would end the double-payment. Retirees would go onto Medicare like the rest of us do, and the other plan would provide supplemental coverage. The Postal Service would be relieved of the debt it is carrying from the 2006 law because the funding will be complete.
Sounds so reasonable, right? Why hasn't it passed? Because Uncle Sam likes keeping half of that double payment. Somehow, some think tanks inside the Beltway (and I say "think" with my tongue in cheek) believe by ending the double payment, USPS would be getting a bailout. But it isn't a bailout. This is stopping your postage money from being unfairly collected and relieving a financial burden USPS did not deserve if Medicare was used as intended.
Saving this money may not mean much to you at a few pennies a pop, but to businesses, it is big money that could be used to create jobs instead of lining the federal treasury. Did you know that the mail is responsible for 7.5 million jobs and $1.2 trillion in the U.S. economy?
Mail is important. But it has to be reliable and on time. Unless this legislation gets through, mail will get slower and eventually, we won't be able to take it for granted.
If you get a chance this summer, e-mail your members of Congress a note asking them to pass these bills. Or better yet, send a letter by mail. Bet Congress takes that mail for granted every day, too.
Chip Hutcheson is the president of the National Newspaper Association and publisher of The Times Leader of Princeton, Kentucky.