(bw) Today, if I want to buy postage stamps, mail a letter or drop off a package – there is a post office offering all those services within 16 minutes from where I work. But soon, it could disappear, due to a $5.1 billion dollar deficit and tight new legislative restrictions imposed on the U.S. Postal Service.
The USPS has a market share in the package delivery department, and they hold a legal monopoly on first class mail. Since 1847 the one cent stamp has increased to 44 cents for mailing a first class letter. So an increase of another cent in 2012 is not much of a surprise. But USPS is now bargaining with unions to eliminate 220,000 career positions by 2015, and they plan to close more than 300 mail processing centers and 3,700 retail locations including some in San Joaquin County.
“The Postal Service can become profitable again if Congress passes comprehensive legislation to provide us with a more flexible business model so we can respond better to a changing marketplace,” said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe. “To return to profitability, we must reduce our annual costs by $20 billion by the end of 2015. We continue to take aggressive cost-cutting actions in areas under our control and urgently need Congress to do its part to get us the rest of the way there.”
In the near future, the 16 minute drive may be to one of the proposed “Village Post Offices,” a replacement of 3,700 retail locations they plan to close. The Village Post Office plan uses local retail outlets to perform some services, similar to what USPS currently offers inside Office Depot. Currently, there are 32,000 USPS offices, 50,000 retail locations for stamps, and the plan will add 50,000 more.. This will be more convenient and allow purchase of stamps and Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes while shopping, but the plan adds more responsibilities to non-unionized, minimum wage employees to accept letters and packages with minimum training.
For San Joaquin County, the processing plant in Stockton is one out of two that cover the entire California Northern Central Valley. An alteration to Stockton’s processing plant means most employees will be relocated and consolidated with Sacramento. For 2012, bulk mail can still be received at the Arch Road location, but customers can expect a 24-hour delay in delivery. For those who need to expedite their bulk mail, a drive to Sacramento may be required. This could also mean timed mail pieces such as Netflix DVDs, magazines, newspapers, bills, prescriptions and direct mail will be delayed or have an increased delivery cost.
What is causing the change? The Post Office says they may bankrupt, because of an increase in usage of e-mail and a decrease in USPS usage, mostly likely associated with the Great Recession. But the real problem is the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) enacted in 2006. The PAEA made over 150 changes to postal law, including changes to retiree health benefits. “PAEA requires the USPS to pay more than $5 billion annually from FY2007 and FY2016 to build up a retirement fund from which both USPS employees and USPS retirees will be paid come FY2017,” said Kevin R. Kosnar, an analyst at American National Government. Benefit plans and salaries are now 80 percent of the budget.
This accounting change has big consequences not just for the economy, but also for national security. The internet is vulnerable to hackers and isn’t always a dependable source of communication, and radio, cell and television towers are easy targets. We need the post service as our backup plan. As such, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bi-partisan legislation to rescue the Post Office. “The Postal Service literally won’t survive without legislative and administrative reforms,” said Senator Collins. “Absent action, it won’t be able to meet its payroll a year from now. The Postal Service is vital to our economy, yet is on the verge of collapse. It is in imminent financial danger. Jobs are at stake.”
Still some argue that entrepreneurs could manage mail as a business and be more effective than government; however, no private sector business has proven to endure the confines of what the Constitution requires–delivering mail to every home, throughout the country with equal service and price, regardless of profit. Daily mail distribution is a constitutional mandate that historically has represented what is best for America.
With that in mind, government officials should review the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act, rather than drastically reduce services. If retiree benefits are causing a financial bleed that affects USPS fiscal stability, then that’s where the change should be made.
- U.S. Postal Service Faces Bankruptcy, Plans Cuts To Slow Delivery Of First Class Mail (huffingtonpost.com)