Postal Service finances 'very serious but solvable'


The umpteenth time might be the charm.

For almost more years than can be remembered, the U.S. Postal Service has pleaded with Congress for help with its seemingly futile financial situation. Politicians from both parties, along with postal unions and other interested folks, agreed that the USPS financial picture was bleak, but consensus on getting out of the hole seemed beyond reach.

Now, with bipartisan legislation being considered in the infamously partisan House, hopeless no longer describes the Postal Service's future. It's not fixed yet, but the Postal Service Reform Act of 2017 provides a degree of optimism that for many years was absent.

Much of what the bill would do is in the weeds of postal finances, dealing with the nitty-gritty of health benefits for employees and retirees, pensions, governance and contracting. For customers, the legislation would allow a one-cent increase in the price of a first-class stamp. Centralized, or cluster box delivery, would be used for homes where 40 percent of residents agree, with a waiver for the physically disabled. Before postal officials could close a local post office, they would have to consider the distance to the next office, the availability of broadband Internet service and local conditions including weather and terrain.

There is no mention of ending Saturday mail delivery, once strongly advocated by postal officials as a major component of their cost-saving strategy.

"This bipartisan measure will make the policy changes that are most urgently needed to put the Postal Service on sound and sustainable long-term financial footing. This collaborative reform effort places the Postal Service on a path toward a viable future," said a joint statement by the legislation's sponsors, Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., Mark Meadows, R-N.C., Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla., Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., and Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass. All are members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which will hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday.

Before they begin celebrating, let's recall that there has been hope before, only to have it wane as talk faded to inaction. At a January 2016 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, the postmaster general, the leader of the letter carriers union and a trade association representative all supported Sen. Thomas R. Carper's, D-Del., postal reform bill that increased hope, but was not enacted.

Notably absent at that point was support from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate committee. Notably, the House bill, which includes some elements of Carper's legislation, was introduced by key members of both parties, including the oversight committee's chairman, Chaffetz, and ranking Democrat, Cummings.

"We came very close to enacting postal reform last year, but just ran out of time before Congress adjourned," Cummings said by email. "We have already introduced a bill this year that is substantially similar to the bill we wrote last Congress."

With the bipartisan backing, optimism grows. The mounting consensus around the House bill builds on the forward momentum generated at the Senate hearing and House committee approval of a bipartisan postal reform bill last year that was never considered by the full House.

"There is broad agreement among all the major stakeholders — and increasingly in Congress that legislation is urgently required to strengthen the Postal Service," Fredric V. Rolando, president, National Association of Letter Carriers, said in testimony prepared for Tuesday's hearing.

In her statement to the committee, Megan J. Brennan, the postmaster general and chief executive, agreed, saying the legislation "would provide the Postal Service with the financial stability to invest in our future and continue to be an engine of growth, to be a strong business partner, to compete for customers with compelling new services and offerings, and to meet the expectations of the American public."

"Overall," she added, "our financial situation is very serious but solvable."

The House bill could be key to a solution.


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