In the first three months of 2021, 22% of mail sent through the United States Postal Service was delivered late.
During a USPS Board of Governors meeting last month, a postal service technology officer reported that the 78% on-time rate had dropped from around 92% at the same time the previous year. That’s not good news for people who rely heavily on the mail for their day-to-day transactions, for medicine delivery or, in our case, for on-time delivery of newspapers. That delay can be especially maddening when the delivery was intended to arrive by Saturday, but is further extended by a Sunday, when the USPS takes the day off.
And last week, the USPS announced its intent to increase the price on first-class mail, with stamp costs rising from 55 cents to 58 cents on Aug. 29. The agency’s hope is to stabilize its financial situation as mail volume declines. According to a USPS statement, first-class mail volume has fallen by more than 30%, including a 47% drop for single-piece mail, such as stamped letters.
Hopefully, new legislation will help. A bill co-sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Gary Peters, D-Mich., seeks to strengthen transparency and accountability for Postal Service performance, eliminate excessive financial burdens and thereby ensure the USPS “can better serve the American people.” Lawmakers from the region who signed on are Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. A similar bill has passed a House committee.
The Postal Service has two growing problems. In 2006, a law was passed that requires it to fully pay for retiree health benefits for most of this century, adding a huge financial burden to the agency. Also, the decline in volume has choked its ability to remain solvent; according to the Government Accountability Office, the USPS has lost $87 billion over the past 14 years.
Overall, 20 senators are pushing the legislation, which would give the USPS some $46 billion in financial aid in the coming decade. According to a release from the Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental and Affairs, it would eliminate the health benefit requirement and require USPS employees to enroll in the government’s Medicare health plan.
Further, it would seek transparency of USPS operations, for Congress and customers alike, by requiring publication of service data on the USPS website and also via a “detailed report” on finances and operations, delivered to Congress every six months. It would require the USPS to maintain its standard of delivery at least six days a week — an important benefit for rural patrons in places such as the Dakotas and Minnesota.
Past ideas, not included in this bill, have included privatization of the USPS or adding to its business model. For instance, some believe the USPS should be able to provide some basic banking services.
A better idea is to get the USPS back to what it does best, and then help it strengthen its services, rather than adding to them. That’s why the Postal Service Reform Act being pushed by Portman, Peters and others from both parties is the best strategy so far.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.