Put a stamp on postal rescue plan

Posted: May 02, 2012

With a workable rescue plan for the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service approved last week by the Senate, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe has good reason to extend a delay in implementing the devastating cuts planned to stanch agency losses reaching $36 million a day.

That’s what Donahoe should do. Indeed, it would be entirely self-defeating for him to proceed with closing hundreds of regional mail-processing centers (including facilities in Tredyffrin Township and Bellmawr, which together employ about 1,600 people) followed by shuttering post offices in many communities.

The additional day it would take to deliver first-class letters as a result, along with the elimination of thousands of mail handlers’ jobs, would only drive away more customers. Americans’ increasing reliance on electronic mail in recent years already has slashed lucrative mail volume by more than 20 percent.

If the House goes along with anything like the Senate’s prescription, the Postal Service will save an estimated $19 billion over the next few years, while gaining needed relief from crushing, up-front costs for pension and health benefits for its 547,000 workers.

It would also have the funds to offer employees retirement incentives that would help cushion any downsizing. That’s important because the postal worker union’s five-year national contract, which doesn’t expire until 2015, includes a no-layoff clause that Congress would be very reluctant to void in an election year.

Just as important, the Senate proposal, crafted with key input from Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.), would begin the process of modernizing and expanding services to enable post offices to sell non-postal products and services, enhancing its bottom line. That would include allowing the agency to ship beer, wine, and liquor for the first time.

Equally good news for most mail customers: Next-day delivery within their region would be maintained, while more distant routes could see slower service.

Just as vital to increasing public reliance on the Postal Service is the Senate legislation’s requirement that Saturday mail delivery, now threatened by cutback plans, be continued. The bill calls for six-day delivery to continue for at least two years, and any renewed move to eliminate it would be contingent upon other cost-saving and revenue-raising measures having fallen short.

Clearly, these are the outlines of the type of rescue that Congress needs to approve. But House action is still pending, and the two chambers have slightly differing approaches to restructuring the Postal Service. Unfortunately, neither the House nor Senate has faced up to the inevitable need to lift the absurd cap on postal hikes pegged to the level of inflation so that stamp prices can keep pace.

No doubt it would be tempting for the postmaster to keep up the pressure by keeping in place the May 15 deadline for postal cutbacks. Given a little more time, though, Congress should be able to reach agreement on the right plan to help the Postal Service continue to serve the national interest by providing reliable, comprehensive mail delivery coast to coast.

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