Postal Service red ink is Washington’s
The U.S. Postal Service is older than the country itself, delivers to 153 million homes and businesses, and consistently ranks as the public’s most trusted federal agency. Yet misinformation about it abounds. Some such misinformation unfortunately appeared in Drew Johnson’s column of Oct. 29 (“Postal service lies cost us billions,” Web). Most egregious is the constant reference to taxpayer money. The postal service by law relies on revenue earned selling stamps, not on taxpayer dollars.
The postal service makes a profit delivering the mail. This amounts to a $1.4-billion operating profit in fiscal 2014 and $1 billion so far this year. As the economy improves, letter revenue has stabilized. And as people increasingly shop online, package revenue is skyrocketing.
The red ink stems from Washington politics, not the mail. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the postal service pre-fund future-retiree health benefits. No other entity must pre-fund for even one year; the postal service must pre-fund 75 years into the future and pay for it all in a 10-year period. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.
Some in Washington hope to use this artificial financial crisis to dismantle or even privatize the postal service. But it’s important to note that some of the postal service’s strongest backers are conservatives. Why? Because the institution has its basis in the Constitution. It is critical for businesses and rural areas; it is the country’s largest civilian employer of military veterans; and it is the centerpiece of a $1.3-trillion mailing industry that employs 7.5 million Americans. Letter carriers boost communities through such actions as conducting the nation’s largest single-day food drive.
If lawmakers address the pre-funding fiasco they created, the postal service can continue to provide Americans with the industrial world’s most affordable delivery network.