Mail in key-opened postal box

Most people get mail Monday through Saturday. But what happens when the mail comes later than expected? We found out a few years ago, when the Postmaster General had to take away overnight First-Class and Periodicals mail from most of the nation. That caused a problem for a lot of consumers and businesses. Now, we may be facing a new slowdown, if something isn’t done by Congress very soon.

Who needs the mail? We have the Internet now. But a lot happens in the mail, and a lot goes wrong when it is late. To begin with, mail is the backbone for about $1.3 trillion in jobs, products and services.

And then there is the personal impact. People send in their credit card payments at the last minute when cash is tight. The payment reaches the credit card company late, and credit scores take a beating. That causes loans for cars and houses to get more expensive. Many people count on the mail for medicines. A missed dosage can mean a trip to the hospital.

Small businesses count on the day’s mail to bring in cash from customers. A few days’ delay can mean a trip to the bank for a loan. Loans cost money, and put pressure on the business to raise prices.

Some things just can’t be emailed. Try sending your grandkid’s birthday cake overnight via Internet. Legal documents must arrive by certified mail. And, there are late newspapers, where sales coupons are missed and public event announcements arrive after the event.

Newspapers like The Star, reliant on mail delivery to readers, took it on the chin the past few years, with disappointed readers canceling subscriptions.

We are at another crunch point. The US Postal Service (USPS) has a $57 billion deficiency on its balance sheet, most of it caused by Congress. Fixing it may require the Postmaster General to close more post offices and mail sorting plants, eliminate mail-hauling truck routes and ground the airmail -- slowing the mail down even more.

USPS last received a major overhaul by Congress in 2006. The next year, Steve Jobs introduced a new gadget called an iPhone.

Since then, Congress and the Postmaster General have been grappling with the tough problem of collecting enough postage for a system that must reach ever more U.S. mailing addresses, but with less—though still important—mail to pay for it. So far, Congress has done nothing but tinker. Usually a slow Congress results in slower mail.

The choices are tough, and Congress is never good at tough choices. Businesses buying postage cannot afford big increases and will simply find alternatives if the rates are jacked up too much. Consumers cannot afford to pay more for slower mail. USPS wants to protect jobs for its workers.

There is a better choice. A bill was sent to House Ways and Means Committee last March by the House committee responsible for overseeing the US Postal Service.

The bill, HR 756, is now sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and three Democrats: Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland; Gerald Connolly of Virginia; and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts. All are experts on postal matters.

That this group, who agree on little else, could come up with a solution says a lot about this bill.

The legislation would require about 77,000 retired postal workers who draw benefits from a federal benefits health fund to use Medicare instead. Medicare taxes were already paid for these workers.

The Medicare fund owes these retirees their benefits anyway. It is just that this group has chosen a different benefit for themselves, which they were allowed to do. Now it is time for them to follow the practice of most private sector workers and draw their earned benefits from Medicare instead.

Commercial mailers would have to accept a small postage increase to pay most of the new cost to Medicare. But the benefits to the federal budget and to USPS would be substantial. Overall, the federal deficit would be $6 billion less if the bill passed.

And the US Postal Service would save about $30 billion over 10 years. The rest of its red ink would have to erased through new efficiencies, and many steps have already been taken to find those, without creating slower mail.

All that needs to happen is for House Speaker Paul Ryan to put the bill up for a successful vote before it is too late.

If you are concerned about losing more mail service, particularly in rural America, the way to protect it is to contact your Representative and ask for a big push for HR 756 in September. www.house.gov will take you to a message page for your Member of Congress such as District 2 Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison and District 1’s Ryan of Janesville.

And yes, we recommend sending your correspondence via the Internet because it will be much faster, and less expensive, than the U.S. Mail.

National Newspaper Association (NNA) President Matthew Paxton IV offered this editorial to NNA members; it has been edited and localized to include members of Congress.

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