US Senate calls on House to get back to postal reform

A group of US Senators pushing for postal reforms today urged their colleagues in the US House of Representatives to get back to debating their own version of a USPS rescue bill.
The call from Senators Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Tom Carper and Scott Brown came as the US Postal Service headed for its first default today for the first time in history.

The struggling USPS confirmed on Monday that it will be unable to pay $5.5bn to the federal government by today, and also looks likely to miss a $5.6bn payment required by the end of next month for its retiree healthcare fund.

Losing $25m a day at present, the Postal Service has been asking for help from Congress for many months to change a pension and healthcare payment schedule set up in 2006, when it was making record profits, now that the recession and Internet have combined to take 25% of mail volumes out of its network.

While the US Senate passed a USPS rescue bill back in April, the House has had other priorities in the nine months since its own bill passed out of committee.

Today Senator Lieberman said: “The Postmaster General is running out of options, and unless Congress acts, draconian cuts are a certainty in the future.

“The Senate passed the 21st Century Postal Service Act in April. It is long past time for the House to take up its own postal legislation so that we can get the Postal Service back on solid financial footing before essential services are lost for millions of people.”

Senator Collins, whose Republican colleagues have the majority in the House, said it was “irresponsible” to allow the Postal Service’s financial free fall to continue.

“Without legislation, the universal mail service that drives a trillion dollar mail industry and supports more than eight million jobs will be in jeopardy,” she said. “Each job lost in this fragile economy is another family tragedy.”

The House leadership, meanwhile, was engaged with tax reform and gun smuggling issues today.

“Manufactured crisis”

America’s postal unions have placed the blame for the Postal Service’s continuing financial crisis firmly on the shoulders of Congress.

The American Postal Workers Union, which represents 220,000 past and present USPS workers, said 82% of USPS losses since 2006 were caused by the mandate from Congress to prefund future retiree healthcare liabilities years ahead.

APWU President Cliff Guffey claimed the current situation was a “manufactured crisis” created by those wanting to privatise the Postal Service, emphasising the part of the Congressional payment schedule in the USPS financial crisis above any impacts from electronic substitution of mail.

Guffey said the proposals that have stalled in the House would not save USPS anyway because of all the cutbacks it would bring in. “It would destroy the Postal Service as we know it,” he said. “The bill is so bad that House Republican leaders are reluctant to bring it up for a vote before the election.”

The National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, which represents 105,000 rural mail carriers, also said the Congressional payment obligations were to blame for the crisis.

“This unfair burden has drained postal resources and forced the Postal Service to propose unprecedented service cuts to all Americans,” said the NRLCA president Jeanette P Dwyer.

“Congress should fix these payment issues so we can get back to the business of modernising our network and offering competitive services to customers six days a week.”

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