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Guest editorial: Slow mail costs money

Forum News Service file photo

By Matthew Paxton IV

Most people get mail every day, Monday through Saturday. A lot happens in the mail, and a lot goes wrong when it is late.

To begin with, mail is the backbone for about $1.3 trillion in jobs, products and services. And then there is the personal impact.

People send credit card payments at the last minute when cash is tight. The payment reaches the credit card company late, and credit scores take a beating. That causes loans for cars and houses to get more expensive.

Many people count on the mail for medicines. A missed dosage can mean a trip to the hospital.

Small businesses count on the mail to bring in cash from customers. A few days' delay can mean a trip to the bank for a loan. Loans cost money, and put pressure on the business to raise prices.

Some things just can't be emailed. It is hard to send your grandkid's birthday cake overnight by the Internet.

Also, I have to mention late newspapers, where sales coupons are missed and public event announcements arrive after the event. Newspapers like this one that rely on the mail for delivery to readers took it on the chin the past few years, with disappointed readers canceling their subscriptions.

The U.S. Postal Service has a $57 billion deficiency on its balance sheet, most of it caused by Congress. Fixing it may require the Postmaster General to close more post offices and mail sorting plants, eliminate mail-hauling truck routes and ground the airmail.

The last major overhaul by Congress was in 2006. The next year, Steve Jobs appeared on a stage with a new gadget called an iPhone. Since then, Congress and the Postmaster General have been grappling with the tough problem of collecting enough postage for a system that must reach ever more mailing addresses in America, but with less mail — though still important mail — to pay for the service.

The Postal Service is not supported by tax dollars, but by postage. And no taxpayer money should be needed unless Congress lets the system deteriorate further. There is a better choice.

A bill was sent to House Ways and Means Committee last March by the House committee responsible for overseeing the U.S. Postal Service. The bill, HR 756, is now sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and three Democrats: Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland; Gerald Connolly of Virginia; and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts. All are experts on postal matters. That this group, who agree on little else, could come up with a solution says a lot about this bill.

The legislation would require about 77,000 retired postal workers who draw benefits from a federal benefits health fund to use Medicare instead. Medicare taxes were already paid for these workers. The Medicare fund owes these retirees their benefits anyway.

Commercial mailers would have to accept a small postage increase to pay most of the new cost to Medicare.

Overall, the federal deficit would be $6 billion less if the bill passed.

And the U.S. Postal Service would save about $30 billion over 10 years. The rest of its red ink would have to be erased through new efficiencies, and many steps have already been taken to find those, without creating slower mail. All that needs to happen is for House Speaker Paul Ryan to put the bill up for a successful vote before it is too late.

If you are concerned about losing more mail service, particularly in rural America, the way to protect it is to contact your Representative and ask for a big push for HR 756 in September. The House website at www.house.gov will take you to a message page for your member of Congress.

Paxton is publisher of The News-Gazette, of Lexington, Virginia, and president of the National Newspaper Association.

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