The public usually puts the US Postal Service at the top of its list when asked to rate how well they view government agencies. The public also takes the mail system for granted, until it’s under attack. Ironically, in this age of the internet and e commerce, the USPS became critical to our democracy because the pandemic resulted in 75 percent of the country being eligible to vote by mail in the 2020 election.
Louis DeJoy took over the USPS months before the 2020 presidential election, his vision for the agency was supported by the Postal Service’s bipartisan governing board. The plan, to slow service and raise prices, was voted on when the board had only six members, and all of them chosen by former president.
Service is slowed by lengthening “service standards,” the euphemism for the amount of time it takes to deliver a piece of mail. First class mail took, at most, three days to arrive, and after October 1 2021 that was “lengthened” to five days. The USPS used to send 20 percent of first class mail by air; now mail is going to be driven to its destination, and the delivery time will depend on how many miles that involves. The further it has to go, the longer it will take. This saves money because flying is more expensive than trucking.
The USPS has $188.4 billion in liabilities, and projections say it will lose another $160 billion over the next decade. How did this happen? The USPS is not a business; it is a public service designed to be self-sufficient. It receives no tax dollars (except for a loan under the CARES Act) for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations. However, its expenses always exceed its revenues.
The USPS lost money in the years 2001 to 2003 but the most significant losses came after the passage of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This act compelled the USPS to pay in advance for the health and retirement benefits of all its employees for at least 50 years—$5.4 billion to $5.8 billion annually—and stipulated that the price of postage could not increase faster than the rate of inflation. It also mandated the USPS to deliver mail six days a week. Many have cited this as “one of the worst pieces of legislation Congress has passed in a generation.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and the use of vote by mail for the 2020 election shone a bright light on the USPS, and there have been some changes. All three of President Joe Biden’s nominees to the governing board of the US Postal Service have been approved by the Senate, increasing Democratic influence over the agency. While there is no indication they will remove DeJoy as postmaster general, finally legislation has been passed that addresses the finances and operations of the USPS.
H.R. 3076, the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022, passed the House in February and passed the Senate in March, without amendments and with a 79–11 yea vote. Both NJ senators voted for it.
Reverses the absurd law that has required the Post Office to set aside enough money to fund retiree health benefits into the future — something no other federal agency or private corporation has to do.
Directs the USPS to create an online tool that makes data on its performance more accessible and transparent to the American people.
Preserves the Monday-through-Saturday delivery standard.
And much more: A full summary can be found at https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3076.
Hopefully, the president will have signed this before you read these words and this year the USPS will be one less hindrance to using the mail-in ballot system.
—Lesley Frost, Advocacy Chair
Sources: Washington Post, Pew Research, Gov.track, US News & World Report, The Hill,