The post office challenge

The post office challenge

"We hope the newfound scrutiny and popular support for the Postal Service helps focus Congress on solutions that have been needed for a long time."

When President Donald Trump raised concern about mail-in voting for the upcoming November elections and suggested that the U.S. Postal Service could be an instrument for voter fraud, political reactions were quick and intense. In the process, Americans rediscovered their love of the post office.

The U.S. Postal Service — which was founded as a way to knit the country together — has been facing very real problems for years, which have largely been ignored. We hope the newfound scrutiny and popular support for the Postal Service helps focus Congress on solutions that have been needed for a long time.

The Postal Service has warned a number of states that delivery issues need to be taken into account as schedules for mail-in voting are being developed. Given reports of 84,000 New York City ballots that were mistakenly disqualified in the state primary, there are legitimate concerns about proper planning for voting in November. But a state’s need to consider scheduling concerns is not a reason to abandon mail-in voting. Adjustments to schedules are made all the time, and states should work with the Postal Service to assure timely service.

Chronic underfunding has plagued our mail service for years, and that needs to be addressed by Congress. In 2006, Congress passed a law requiring the USPS to create a $72 billion fund to pay for the cost of its post-retirement health care costs, 75 years into the future. By almost all accounts, that pre-funding requirement is the major financial burden that hamstrings agency flexibility and largely accounts for the Postal Service’s recent string of annual losses. Without it, the push to cut services would ease. So would the calls for privatization.

The Postal Service’s mandate is to provide uniform mail service to Americans everywhere. As such, the Postal Service serves as part of a nation-building enterprise, where policy cannot be driven solely by traditional commercial considerations. That doesn’t mean that the Postal Service can’t succeed in its current structure — but it does mean that Congress needs to exercise care and responsibility to adjust requirements and to provide necessary funding in order for the enterprise to succeed.

It’s not just mail-in voting that is dependent upon a reliable Postal Service. The Postal Service handles about 4 million prescription drug shipments each day, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers. That number has increased during the coronavirus crisis, and a delay in receiving medications can put the health of countless Americans at risk. Many small businesses are reliant upon the Postal Service for the transmission of essential documents and packages. And print media — including the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle — is dependent upon the Postal Service for delivery of its products. If the USPS ceases to function properly, there is no other practical and cost-effective alternative for print media outlets to get their newspapers and magazines into their readers’ homes. A threat to the survival of the USPS constitutes a threat to print journalism.

In February, the House passed the USPS Fairness Act, which would repeal the crushing pre-funding requirement for future retirement health benefits, but the Senate has not taken up the measure. We urge it to do so. The Senate should also consider the $25 billion aid package for the USPS that the House passed last weekend. Common-sense reform and funding for the USPS should be a bipartisan effort.

As for November mail-in voting, we urge our readers to request ballots now, and to vote early. That will help assure that all votes are counted. PJC

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