A Winters Express opinion column
By Richard Kleeberg
Special to the Express
If you want to generate some negative responses and angry remarks, just try making a positive comment about the Post Office.
Late deliveries, mangled packages, slow as molasses staff, lost letters, expensive postage, packages sent to the wrong address, financial red ink — there seems to be a never-ending litany of complaints from just about everyone.
But I think people are far too angry and very much misinformed about the United States Postal Service. The Post Office actually does a remarkable job, at an incredibly low price, while facing an insurmountable challenge created by Congress.
The United States Post Office handles 45 percent of the world’s mail, delivering nearly 150 billion mail pieces annually. Think about that again — almost half of the mail delivered on the entire planet is handled by our US Post Office. It delivers more items in just sixteen days than UPS and FedEx, combined, ship in a year.
I am amazed with the inexpensive service provided every day by the Post Office. For less than 60 cents, I can send a letter to San Diego or Miami, to Fargo, North Dakota, to Broken Bow, Nebraska, and even to Bangor, Maine. And I know that within three or four days, no matter how small the town, my letter will be delivered.
Think about it — less than 60 cents. I can’t buy a cup of plain black coffee for less than two dollars, but I can have a letter hand-delivered to a rural mailbox in a tiny Mississippi hamlet for far less than a dollar. What a deal!.
There are some challenges facing the Post Office. By far the most significant is a law called the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), that has placed a financial stranglehold on the Post Office.
PAEA was created in 2006, by the Republican majority in Congress. The law placed a straightjacket around the agency. It requires the Post Office to pre-fund all the health care benefits for their employees, for 50 years (yes, 50) in advance.
To do this, the Post Office is supposed to place $5.5 billion into a pension fund each year. Note that absolutely no other government agency or department is subject to this requirement. And no corporation or business in the country does this, either.
Imagine if a bank gave a 30-year mortgage to a new homeowner, but then told that homeowner she must make all the upcoming 360 monthly payments on the very day she signed the mortgage. That’s what PAEA does to the Post Office, forcing advance payment for the next 50 years of their employee health benefit costs. For nearly a decade, the Post Office has been unable to make its health care pre-funding payments.
These required payments account for almost all of the Post Office’s losses in the past 15 years. In some years, the Post Office would actually turn a small profit, if not for the annual bill for 50 years of health benefits. Some people complain that the Postal Service would lose money most years, even if they did not have to pre-fund health benefits. But those people are making an incorrect assumption about the Post Office.
The Post Office, created by our founding fathers, was never intended to make a profit. It is the United States Postal Service, not the Postal Corporation or the Postal Business. None of us expect the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) to turn a profit. None of us expect the Pentagon, or any other government agency to be profitable. There is no logical reason to expect the Postal Service to turn a profit, when absolutely no other federal agency does so.
There is one change I would like to see the Post Office make. I suggest it is time to switch our current six-day a week delivery schedule, to delivery only three days per week. We no longer need to have our mail delivered every day, six days in a row, because the volume of mail delivered today is far less than 20 or 30 years ago. The Post Office could deliver the mail to one half of Winters on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and then deliver the mail to the other half on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Changing the number of mail delivery days is not a new idea. Until early 1950, the Post Office delivered mail twice each day, throughout most of the nation. And business mail, in big cities like Chicago and New York, was often delivered four times each day. The nation survived the switch from twice a day, to once a day delivery, and I imagine we’d be just fine now with every other day delivery.
The next time you hear someone complain about the Post Office, I hope you will set them straight.
To read more from Richard Kleeberg, please visit his new website at Justthepoint.com