Reform the postal service
The U.S. Postal Service was long a bright spot in the federal government, flourishing no matter which party was in office. It was an institution that could be relied upon and respected.
Most Americans took its integrity, efficiency and good work for granted. It was there when we needed it to pay bills, communicate with friends and relatives, deliver packages and publications, send mail and packages to our troops and perform a long list of other valued services.
Today, the U.S. Postal Service needs help. But Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s scheme for improvement seems destined to make the USPS’s problems worse, not better.
This might once have been a prime opportunity for bipartisan cooperation to repair a cherished federal service to ensure its sustainability. While those days seem long past, this is the type of reform that deserves broad buy-in by members of both parties.
Since 2006, the postal service has been handling less mail year after year, and it’s been losing more and more money. In 2019, the USPS handled about a third less mail than in 2006; in 2020, it lost $9.2 billion.
The USPS is a government service, not a money-making enterprise, but such massive losses are not sustainable. Reform is obviously needed. But DeJoy has been making things worse since he became postmaster general in June 2020.
Soon after he took office, DeJoy imposed cost-cutting measures that slowed the mail dramatically and made some people wary of mailing in election ballots. He had mailboxes removed from some neighborhoods. Holiday mail that year was a nightmare, with some packages not reaching their destination for weeks. Some of the changes DeJoy imposed then were eventually struck down in courts.
Now he’s launched another deliberate attempt to slow the mail through cutting use of airmail and restricting how far mail can travel within a day. At the same time the Postal Service will be slowing the mail, rates will go up again. Under DeJoy, austere policies and neglect have already caused slowdowns and inefficiencies. All that sounds like a recipe for trouble.
Since its earliest days in 1775, when Benjamin Franklin was named the first postmaster general, the post office, or Postal Service, has been essential to the lives of many Americans. Even though modern technology has reduced communication on paper, the Postal Service is still vitally important to many people — for making payments, receiving prescription drugs, delivering packages to remote places and mailing in ballots, among other services.
Cutting staff, removing mailboxes, closing small offices, slowing the mail and raising rates will disproportionately hurt low-income people and those who live in rural areas. The Postal Service is supposed to serve all Americans.
There are ways to make things better that are more creative and sustainable. For starters, Congress could pass the Postal Service Reform Act that would eliminate the unwise requirement that the agency prepay its retirees’ health benefits. That change would allow the agency to diversify its pension investments, as is done in most advanced countries, and would do a lot to fix its financial problems.
Other suggestions include taking advantage of the Postal Service’s presence throughout the country, in otherwise isolated or depressed areas. Possibilities include using the Postal Service to process hunting and fishing licenses, register voters, help census workers and do contact tracing for health agencies.
One promising idea is reviving the postal banking system, being tried as a pilot program in four cities. That would bring in revenue while helping disadvantaged people who have little or no access to banks and often pay exorbitant fees for basic services such as check cashing.
What’s clear is that there are solutions to embrace, should lawmakers take this seriously. The postal service has been and should remain a vital part of America. To have a healthy future, it needs good leaders and adequate resources to adapt to changing times.