Bert Godin: Making sense of the Post Office financial situation

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The 2006 Postal Reform Law forces the USPS to prefund future retirees’ health benefits.

With all the negative reports of late concerning the U.S. Postal Service, I thought I would offer my input on what is really going on, before people arrive at conclusions that the Postal Service is broke, or may even be on the way out.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, told officials in Washington that “the truth in the Postal Service’s cash crisis is a manufactured crisis; an excuse for our critics who would rather dismantle our business than grow it.”

What has created the Postal Service’s dire financial situation is a requirement under the 2006 Postal Reform Law that forces USPS to pay $5.5 billion a year to prefund 75 years’ worth of future retirees’ health benefits, all within a 10-year period (that includes people who aren’t even hired yet, or even born).

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That is a burden no other company or government agency is forced to do.

That situation caused the USPS’s books to reflect losses of $20 billion during the past four years. Without that, the USPS shows an operating profit of nearly $700 million, despite dramatic increases in the use of email and online bill payments.

Some critics in Washington are saying that USPS is just trying for a bailout. But it is not a bailout; the money belongs to the Postal Service.

Another fact — for the past 30-plus years, no tax money was needed to support USPS operations.

The Postal Service delivers to 150 million addresses, six days a week. It has been the most trusted federal agency six years in a row. Postage costs are the lowest in the world and USPS delivers 40 percent of the world’s mail.

It is at the center of a $1.3 trillion mailing industry that supports between 8 and 9 million jobs and binds this nation together. USPS employees are in every neighborhood and often informally double as police officers, firefighters and finders of lost children. There is no comparable network in the U.S.

In 1974, the National Association of Letter Carriers initiated a program that recognizes letter carriers from different regions and selects a national hero of the year, a national humanitarian of the year, plus regional heroes.

In 2007, a letter carrier from Lewiston — Wayne Viger — was selected as the hero of the year for bursting into a burning apartment building and rescuing a woman whose clothes were on fire, then he went back inside the three-story building, going door to door, yelling for everyone to evacuate.

I don’t think neighborhoods throughout the country could go without that kind of eyes-and-ears surveillance. Ask a patron who has had a carrier save the life of a family member about how he would feel about losing even one day of delivery service.

Many people do not realize the services that letter carriers perform that are above and beyond their daily routine of delivering the mail. The USPS community services coordinator, at my request, sent me information that more than 500 heroic stories annually are received, and I am sure that there are many more that are not reported.

Because of the 2006 Postal Reform Law, the Office of Personnel Management (that handles pension checks) was forced to pay $5.5 billion a year and to overpay billions more into federal pension accounts. That turned out to be the huge mistake that created the USPS financial crisis.

Congress can fix it, without drastic cuts in services or massive layoffs, and at no cost to the taxpayers.

Independent studies show that between $50 billion and $75 billion was overpaid by USPS into the Civil Service Retirement System since 1971, but advocates who want to dismantle the Postal Service, such as the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, don’t agree with those findings.

The Government Accounting Office found that methods used by members of the Postal Regulatory Commission and the USPS Office of Inspector General are what found the billions that were paid.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced a bill, H.R. 1351, that attempts to address the decades-old accounting error by the OPM to overcharge USPS billions of dollars. If it passes, it would put the OPM in a position to repay the money back to USPS, restoring the agency to firm financial footing.

The Postal Service is not broken. With the return of billions owed to USPS, it will show profits for years to come, without ever using tax money.

Louis “Bert” Godin of Lewiston is a retired letter carrier out of Branch 345 in Auburn.

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