Why The Just-Passed Bipartisan Postal Service Bill Is A Big Deal

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Long overdue improvements to the US Postal Service (USPS) passed the US Senate on Tuesday, bringing the promise of stability and reform to a service that has struggled financially for years. Though the bipartisan vote didn’t receive much local news coverage, the legislation will fix a major source of concern for the country’s mail service that’s been talked about for well over a decade. It will also ensure that six-days-a-week delivery service remains.

Here’s why it’s important.

How it Works

The Postal Service Reform Act will save the USPS about $50 billion in costs over the next decade and it increases its ability to choose where to invest money to support important services.

That could mean more resources for rural post offices, more staffing to handle the workload and fewer delays in service.

That’s possible because the bill cuts a burdensome Bush-era requirement that the USPS pay all workers’ health-care benefits ahead of time, something that most private businesses and federal agencies aren’t required to do. It also requires retired postal workers to enroll in Medicare when eligible.

Iowa Postal Workers Union President Kimberly Karol said the USPS had to pay those benefits at the beginning of the financial year before it was able to make any money.

“As you can imagine that then becomes really cumbersome financially for the USPS. What they started to do was to reduce the number of employees so they didn’t have to pay employee benefits,” she said. “They were trying to find ways to save money. So that came at the expense of the employees, that came at the expense of our network because they started shutting down plants that were processing and delivering mail, consolidating the locations. They reduced hours of post offices all across the country.”

Why it Matters

With the requirement gone, the postal service can focus less on cuts, and, instead, choose where resources go.

Karol said there’s hope for increased staff, which decreases the possibility for mistakes and ensures the mail runs faster. She also said employees will be paid fairly for the amount of work they do. It will also protect rural post offices from consolidation and closure.

“This postal reform legislation has shored up the foundation of the postal service,” Karol said. “So there are still things that we need to work on in my opinion. But we now have a solid foundation for moving forward and making good choices about how we’re going to provide services in the future for our communities.”

More people use the postal service now, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During 2020, USPS deliveries of essentials allowed people to stay inside and reduce their risk of exposure. The postal service has also been used to ship COVID-19 tests and protective equipment. More people also voted by mail in the 2020 election, which emphasized the risks of delays and the need for quick delivery.

Under the bill, mail and packages will also be delivered by the USPS six days a week, with exceptions for federal holidays and natural disasters.

Why was it a Problem?

In 2006, President George W. Bush and a Republican-led Congress passed a law that required the post office to calculate and put away all employees’ likely retirement benefits ahead of time. In six years, the USPS started defaulting on those payments because of reduced mail revenue, and the USPS was never able to catch up.

Who Solved it?

The Postal Service Reform Act passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support.

In the Senate, it passed 79-19, and Iowa’s US Sens. Joni Ernst (R) and Chuck Grassley (R) voted for it.

The bill passed the House last month 342-92. Iowa’s US Reps. Cindy Axne (D), Randy Feenstra (R), Ashley Hinson (R), and Marianette Miller-Meeks (R) all voted for it.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

But Karol said none of it would have been possible without activism and attention from the American people. Last week, the USPS had a day of action and she said 5,000 people called their legislators in one day to urge support for this bill.

“That’s huge when the public is getting involved in decision making and letting our legislators know what’s important to us,” she said. “And I see this as a victory for all democracy because they became involved and the Senate and legislators responded.”

“The activism around protecting the public Postal Service and taking measures to shore up our financial future, that wasn’t just postal employees, that was everyone,” Karol continued. “And that’s so important because I think people need to have a sense of victory because, in so many ways, we feel we feel helpless. And in this particular case, we were victorious.”

 

Nikoel Hytrek
03/9/22

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