Congress may soon determine the fate of an institution that is older than the country itself, that's rooted in the Constitution and that today offers Americans the world's best and most affordable delivery network. America needs to know the facts on the United States Postal Service's financial crisis.
Little of what people have heard about the Postal Service's financial crisis is accurate; indeed, the USPS is doing far better financially than is suggested by many news reports that cite -- but don't explain -- billions in red ink.
The service is breaking even delivering the mail this year, and some quarters it's even making a profit. For example, in the first quarter of this fiscal year, it had a net operating profit of $100 million. You read that correctly. It took in $17.7 billion in revenue from selling stamps (the agency is self-funded and hasn't received a dime of taxpayer money for 30 years) and spent $17.6 billion delivering the mail. It accomplished this despite the economy and despite the Internet. Yes, first-class mail revenue is down about 2 percent this year. But that same Internet also leads more people to order goods online, and the resulting revenue from packages deliveries has risen by 9 percent. That, of course, bodes well for the future, with the Internet beginning to offer as many opportunities as challenges.
Now, as for that red ink you've heard about, it exists -- but it has surprisingly little to do with delivering the mail. It's almost entirely an external problem created by politicians. In 2006, Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, in 10 years at a cost of $5.5 billion a year. Pre-funding accounts for 100 percent of USPS red ink this year.
Unfortunately, some lawmakers want to use the very financial crisis they helped bring to the USPS as a pretext for dismantling an institution relied on by millions of Americans and by small business owners. Instead of addressing pre-funding -- which they instituted and could fix, thereby actually addressing the source of the financial drain -- they want the public to take the hit. They advocate ending home mail delivery, which would force residents in Wyoming to traipse around the neighborhood to "cluster boxes" in all kinds of weather and safety conditions. And they seek to eliminate Saturday delivery, which would raise costs for small businesses that are open on weekends and would have to contract with expensive private carriers.
Folks in Wyoming and around the country deserve to maintain the service they've long relied on -- a letter carrier depositing their mail in their mailbox, six days a week. The impact of severe cuts goes even beyond this. The postal service, operating six days a week, is the centerpiece of a $1.3 trillion national mailing industry that employs 7.5 million Americans in the private sector -- including Wyoming. Besides hurting residents, small businesses and jobs, degrading service is counterproductive for the Postal Service itself. It would ultimately destroy the USPS by driving customers (and revenue) away. Remember, the Postal Service functions solely on the revenue it generates, not on taxpayer money.
Our representatives in Washington have a decision to make. They can degrade service to the public and send the Postal Service on a downward spiral toward its demise. Or, they can fix the pre-funding fiasco so Wyoming citizens and our businesses can continue to receive the services they have counted on for decades.
Rene Eberhardt lives in Casper.