Source of mail agency woes are us and Congress
Why is the U.S. Postal Service in so much trouble?
Just look in the mirror.
Lots of people don't use the mail anymore, especially first-class mail, which has been a major money-maker for the Postal Service over the years.
First-class mail — once heavily used by just about everyone to send letters to family and friends, pay bills, mail greeting cars and by businesses to communicate with customers and service providers — has been in steady decline for years.
Many people now use email to communicate or they text on their cell phones. Bills are paid via the Internet or automatically deducted from banking accounts. Even the federal government has joined the defection by using direct deposit for tax refunds and Social Security payments.
On top of that, private package delivery services have taken away much of that side of the Postal Service's business.
Clearly, when fewer people use your services it gets harder to pay the bills.
This week for the first time the U.S. Postal Service defaulted on a major financial obligation when it didn't make a congressionally mandated $5.5 billion payment on health care benefits for postal retirees. It plans to default on another payment in September.
On top of that, the Postal Service is reportedly losing about $75 million a month trying to operate.
But the problem is not just those of us who have stopped using mail as often. The real problem is members of Congress whom we have elected.
The default this week is symbolic of the inability in this era of partisanship in Congress to deal with the Postal Service's and the nation's difficulties.
Congress is not being called “do nothing” without good reason. Political observers cannot remember a less effective Congress than the current one. There is a lot of finger pointing as to who is more to blame, but the reality is that it is the current political stalemate between Democrats and Republicans that is the cause.
The postal problem provides a good example of the harm that this stalemate does to the nation.
Postal Service officials have been warning for a long time that they need help and flexibility if it is to continue to survive. They have asked Congress to help provide them with the solutions they need to continue to meet the expectations of Americans that they will continue to receive mail.
Even the health benefits default this week was essentially caused by Congress. It mandated the “pre-funding” of retiree health insurance. This is something that no private business has to do. Postal officials begged to have the requirement removed but Congress didn't do it.
The real problem is that the Postal Service is not truly an independent business, although government officials like to claim that it is. In reality, the mail agency must operate under mandates from Congress, which says they must provide universal service at a certain cost level — even if it is unaffordable.
The Postal Service must also maintain certain employee benefits, keep facilities open that are not needed or practical and deliver six days a week.
A truly independent business would have the freedom to look at its operations and make the necessary changes and cutbacks so it could operate in the black rather than the red. Congress has delayed taking any action to give the agency flexibility even though it has been repeatedly asked to do so.
Members of Congress may claim they want the Postal Service to cover its costs and operate like a business, but their actions tell us that is a lie.
The truth is that Congress probably can't do it because Americans likely wouldn't stand for the necessary changes.
The Postal Service either needs to be allowed to act freely or it has to be subsidized by taxpayers as it was in the past.
The reality is that Congress and many Americans don't want to do either.
That's a road map for the end of the Postal Service as we know it.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone: 539-6870.