Our founders understood the critical role a post office would play as our nation developed. The Continental Congress hired Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General in 1775. When the Constitution was adopted in 1789, it stated “Congress shall have the Power …To establish Post Offices and post Roads.” Throughout our history, people have understood that the post office is critical for commerce, communications, security and convenience, and national unity.
I grew up, as did my parents and my own children, with a reliable postal service and terrific postal employees. These men and women—so many of them military veterans—have served quietly and proudly in many different jobs, all dedicated to getting the mail from its origin to its destination. In all kinds of weather, they carry business packages, books, newspapers, magazines, sales fliers, and important documents. They also carry baby announcements, wedding invitations, the latest updates from your hometown, birthday greetings, and sympathy cards. We generally do not see these men and women unless they are at the counter or out carrying the mail. As they go about their duties, they also share town news and serve as the eyes and ears in neighborhoods, since they notice if anything is amiss. Sometimes they are the only face at the door for many isolated, elderly, or infirm citizens. They have earned and enjoy very high marks from their customers, who trust them and appreciate their great service.
However, the U.S. Postal Service is now in desperate trouble. It doesn’t receive taxpayer money, and has been running large deficits since 2007. Something must be done to preserve the world’s greatest postal system, and proposals are in Congress right now. Can the post office be saved? Yes. Should it be? Absolutely! As the ad on TV says, Congress created the problem and they can fix it.
How did the U.S. Postal Service get into this mess? The Recession, which hurt businesses and decreased the volume of mail, certainly hurt, but that is temporary, and it is not the biggest reason for the red ink . Some blame the internet, but the internet has also created business for the post office because people order online and because the Post Office transports mail for what they call “the last mile” for private carriers. The biggest problem is the law that Congress passed in 2006, forcing the U.S. Postal Service to pre-fund their future retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. No other public agency is required to do that, and private industry does not have that standard either.
If the U.S. Postal Service were not required to do that, they would have made a modest profit over the past four years, despite the Recession and other challenges. But because of this unreasonable law, the profits have been eaten up, and the Postal Service management has been hacking away at our postal system to save money. They need to remember that there is a 1.3 trillion-dollar mailing industry that supports around 8 million private-sector jobs and relies on a great postal service. Of course the Postal Service should work to update its current business model, but they should not end Saturday delivery, which hurts businesses who rely on quick package delivery, and people who need fast prescription delivery. The six-day delivery keeps the Postal Service competitive and convenient. The Postal Service is also closing down processing centers, which can delay mail and creates havoc for workers. In Portsmouth, for example, some staff now have to travel more than 50 miles each way just to keep jobs, and many will lose theirs, increasing unemployment at the worst time. The Postal Service has already cut 110,000 jobs, but that is not enough for people like one NH member of Congress and his tea party supporters. He and many other right wing politicians have refused to sign on to a bill that would save the postal service by ending the bizarre requirement to pre-fund the employee health benefits for 75 years, for future postal workers who are not even born yet!
This is, at its core, a surreptitious push to privatize the post office, and citizens must raise their voices now in protest. They must tell their members of Congress to fix the mess Congress created in 2006, because they are proud of the U.S. Postal Service and its record of service since its beginning, they depend on it, and they want the Post Office to always be there serving the American people, just as the Creators of our Constitution envisioned.
Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011, she is seeking a third term in the November, 2012 election. She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages. She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.