A bipartisan bill to help the U.S. Postal Service easily passed the House of Representatives this week and appears headed for speedy Senate passage. It is a good first step toward saving the federal agency from its perpetual fiscal nightmare. But Congress also needs to pay the Postal Service for carrying out important mandates, such as Saturday delivery, or we will face a new mail system crisis.
The Postal Service Reform Act passed the House 342-92 on Tuesday following more than a decade of legislative neglect, during which it has been obvious that the Postal Service, ordered to be a self-supporting business, was laboring greatly under onerous rules.
One major change in the bill would relieve the Postal Service of a nonsensical requirement that it prefund its retirees’ health benefits, unlike the pay-as-you-go rule for every other federal agency. The Postal Service simply could not make the annual payments of more than $5 billion and keep operating, so it quit doing so in 2010, running up a $57 billion unpaid obligation that the bill would wipe away.
The bill also requires Postal Service retirees to enroll in Medicare, a provision that is expected to save the agency between $2 billion and $3 billion a year. The Postal Service has requested help with its health care costs for years, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy hailed the pending changes, saying, “We are excited about the bipartisan progress we have seen in the last couple of weeks.”
But the Postal Service had losses of more than $7 billion in 2020 and $6 billion in 2021 and is anticipating a deficit this fiscal year of more than $6 billion. So the health care savings alone will not put the agency back in the black, particularly with decades of decline in Americans’ use of mail.
One big contributor to the large Postal Service deficits is Saturday delivery, which postmasters general have from time to time hinted that they might have to suspend. However, the Postal Service Reform Act would make Saturday delivery a legal requirement without offering to pay for its costs.
We agree that Saturday delivery is an essential public service, but we do not think the Postal Service either can or should swallow the added cost by drawing on its other revenues. That unfunded mandate should be funded somehow, and the Senate should make such an amendment.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday he expects to take up the measure soon, a sign that it is on a fast track. Swift action is desirable, but the Senate needs to address the unfunded mandate and give the House a second opportunity to vote.
The bill also includes new requirements for timely delivery transparency, an important change to address serious problems with on-time delivery under Mr. DeJoy’s leadership.
As Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee that crafted the bill, rightly put it, the legislation “brings us one step closer to finally putting the Postal Service on a sound financial footing.” Now it’s time to take yet another step.