A national treasure: The U.S. Postal Service
The U.S. Postal Service delivers to 155 million homes and businesses from coast to coast, six and increasingly seven days a week. It’s based in the Constitution, is consistently rated the public’s most-trusted federal agency, and delivers 47 percent of the world’s mail.
Daily, an average of 3,630 new household, business or organization addresses are added to the postal delivery network.
Yet, there is a surprising amount of misunderstanding about this American treasure. Given USPS’ importance to residents and businesses … throughout Indiana, I’d like to offer some facts and context.
For starters, the Postal Service is operating in the black. Revenue exceeded operating expenses by $610 million in Fiscal Year 2016, bringing total operating profit the past three years to $3.2 billion. This is all earned revenue; by law USPS gets no tax dollars.
This impressive performance stems from two ongoing structural factors: As the economy gradually improves from the worst recession in 80 years, letter revenue is stabilizing. And as the Internet drives online shopping in Indiana and beyond, package revenue is rising sharply — up 6 percent in 2016.
As a result, 20,000 letter carriers have been added the past couple of years.
There is red ink but it has nothing to do with the mail and everything to do with congressional politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. No other public agency or private company has to do this even one year in advance; USPS must pre-fund these benefits decades into the future. That $5.8 billion annual charge is the ‘red ink.’
Addressing this elephant in the room — pre-funding — is imperative given the Postal Service’s role in so many facets of American life, including in a state like Indiana with its mix of cities, small towns and rural areas.
In many places, the post office is the center of civic life. Moreover, the 500,000 postal employees are the centerpiece of the $1.3 trillion national mailing industry, which employs 7 million Americans in the private sector, including 170,731 Hoosiers.
USPS also is the nation’s largest civilian employer of military veterans, with nearly one-quarter of letter carriers wearing their second uniform.
Every May, letter carriers conduct the nation’s largest single-day food drive to help replenish food banks, pantries and shelters from coast to coast; the recent 24th annual drive collected a record 80 million pounds of food. Every day as they deliver mail on their routes in Indiana, letter carriers help save the elderly or others experiencing medical problems, put out fires, find missing children or help stop crimes in progress.
These are just some of the reasons why the Postal Service enjoys enthusiastic support from the public and from lawmakers across the political spectrum.
If Indiana’s elected representatives in Washington act on practical, targeted postal reform that addresses pre-funding while strengthening the invaluable and profitable postal network, the Postal Service can continue to provide residents and businesses with the industrial world’s most affordable delivery services.
— Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
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