The U.S. Postal Service has requested a rate increase. A better way for the agency to save money would be for Congress to rescind a requirement that the Postal Service pre-pay retirement benefits.
News that the U.S. Postal Service is looking to hike stamp prices again brought with it the usual chorus of groans: Didn’t they just raise rates? How much higher can they go?
Nobody’s keen on the notion of another 2-cent increase, likely to begin a mere 18 months after the last increase went into effect. But what else is the Postal Service to do? It continues to lose money, squeezed out by other shipping agencies and a public shifting from snail mail to e-mail.
Last year the agency ran a $3.8 billion deficit; both this year and next year it’s projected to be $7 billion in the red. That comes even with shedding 40,000 jobs and preparing to shutter a number of offices. It's also talking about reducing services and delivering only five days a week. And because even the rate increase won’t erase the deficit, agency officials pledge even more streamlining.
There is one more solution the Postal Service has suggested, but it’s one it can’t accomplish by itself. Considered independent since 1971, the Postal Service doesn’t draw any tax dollars for its operations, but still has to take its marching orders from Congress and a presidentially appointed board of directors. The lawmakers in the equation need to sign off, after delaying repeatedly, on a proposal to lift a bizarre 2006 mandate on retirement benefits.
Under the rule, the Postal Service has to pre-pay into an account for retirement medical benefits for current workers and workers not yet hired (and who, incidentally, are unlikely to be hired anytime soon, given the cutbacks). The required payments are pegged at a rate well above what accountants estimate will actually be needed. Worse, because of the deficit, for the last couple of years the agency has had to borrow money for the bill from Uncle Sam — basically creating an ongoing bailout.
This is an easy fix worth $3.5 billion a year or more, and there’s been no valid reason offered as to why Congress hasn’t followed through on it. That lawmakers have sat on their hands here should be cause for irritation from every American who has ever used a stamp and is frustrated with all these increases.
Messenger Post (Canandaigua, N.Y.)