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Address Unknown: Saving the Postal Service

In Business, Economy, Jobs, Local News, National News, Opinion on September 20, 2011 at 7:03 am

By Gery L. Deer

Deer In Headlines


Cell phones, text messages, email, Facebook; the list of personal contact options is virtually endless and growing daily. Is it any wonder then that it seems like the only things mail carriers leave in the mailbox are bills and junk mail? And now the United States Postal Service is on the verge of shutdown.

In July, faced with a $5.5 billion health care bill owed to the federal government, Postal Service officials announced plans to stop Saturday deliveries, shut down some 3,600 service locations and lay off more than 200,000 employees. If the debt is not paid by September 30, 2011, the agency will be in default and forced to shut down.

On Monday, President Obama announced a plan to save the Postal Service and its employees from insolvency. In addition to other stipulations, the plan includes the previous idea of discontinuing Saturday mail delivery and also allows the U.S. Postal Service to use $7 billion from an overfunded pension account to avoid financial collapse.

Unnamed officials in the Obama administration have admitted that the president’s relief package, at best, would provide only short-term solutions.  So the question now is whether the Postal Service, as it exists today, should be saved at all?

Constant rate increases and regular customer service complaints add to the already tarnished reputation of the USPS. Sometime in the 1990’s, postal mail became known as, “snail mail,” for the agonizingly slow rate at which a letter travels compared to electronic correspondence. Sending letters or parcels overseas or through priority service can often require complicated and confusing forms and fees, any of which can change without notice.

However, while the Internet has caused the decline in overall postal traffic, it has also helped the Postal Service – and the consumer. Priority and Express mail, as well as flat-rate shipping, are far less expensive than competitive services through UPS or FedEx making it easier for online stores and auction sellers to deliver their products to customers.

Unfortunately, low cost shipping services have done little to shore up declining sales of first class stamps. As with most other government services that are hopelessly mismanaged and over budget, the Postal Service has continued to operate outside its means, and now the mortgage, so to speak, is in foreclosure.

As much as they politicize the idea and protest against it, each blaming the other for badly spent tax revenue, Congress and the White House continue to pour cash into failing programs and badly managed agencies filled with waste and redundancy. The Postal Service is no different. But what can be done?

It seems as though it would be impractical to completely eliminate a federal postal service, but perhaps the time has come to scale it back and adjust to the times. But even if a trimming of the fat occurs in time, it will still mean more unemployed workers and perhaps an increase in the cost of postage.

Besides USPS employees, millions of other workers would be affected if the Postal Service were to be shut down. Mail room employees, print shop and direct mail workers, delivery drivers and mechanics would all be out of work.

Losing mail service would also have a harsh effect on the elderly and the poor inAmericabecause of limited internet access and education. Many of senior citizens still pay all of their bills by mail and send hand-written correspondence to family and friends. Plus, alternate methods would need to be found for inviting guests to weddings and other formal events and paper greeting cards would eventually become a thing of the past.

Rather than looking for a complete solution to the Postal Service budget issue, government officials are too busy running for office. Politicians – including President Obama – desperate to keep their government jobs in 2012 have done little to directly address deficit problems at the post office. Instead, it has been thrown into tax reduction plans and budget talks as what can only be referred to as an afterthought.

The time to make a decision about the fate of the Postal Service is now. If congress does nothing, the agency will go bankrupt. In the meantime, the clock is ticking and Americans really don’t want to have to pay for another bail out.


Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist based in Jamestown. Read more at http://www.deerinheadlines.com