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Opinion

OPINION: Don't cut the postal service to try to save it

Walter Barton is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Long Island Merged, Branch 6000.

 

Members of Congress may primarily be focused on health care reform these days, but there's another national issue that needs prompt attention: the United States Postal Service.

The recession has had a tremendous impact on the Postal Service. This year, mail volume has declined by 40 billion pieces, and the service is forecasting a $7 billion deficit. Cost-cutting proposals include shutting post offices and eliminating Saturday delivery.

Dropping one delivery day could save $3.3 billion next year - a number that looks good on paper. But consider the consequences. Ending Saturday delivery could eliminate at least 50,000 postal worker jobs - about 575 here on Long Island. Most economic experts will tell you that reducing the workforce only adds to the problems of difficult economic times. Creating and maintaining good jobs helps end them.

Five-day delivery will also make the Postal Service more vulnerable to competition, which will step in to fill the Saturday void. And since private companies will only deliver where they can make money, the average customer in a less well-off community will pay more for service.

By contrast, the Postal Service doesn't pick and choose its customers. It delivers to 150 million households and businesses - a number that continues to grow by 1 million each year.

Thankfully, postal management cannot change to five-day delivery without the consent of Congress. And yesterday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committee looked elsewhere to provide some needed financial relief.

Unlike any other business or government agency, the Postal Service is required to fully pre-fund future retiree health benefits each year, and $5.4 billion was due for this purpose next Wednesday. But the appropriations committee worked a waiver into a continuing resolution bill that Congress is expected to pass next week. According to the provision, the Postal Service will pay $1.4 billion now and defer the remaining $4 billion to after 2017. Since the retirement fund currently has more than $30 billion in escrow, this shouldn't cause any financial hardships.

That's a positive sign that Congress knows it has to get it right when it comes to the post office. Cutting services is not a solution.

Expanding products and offering new services is another promising approach. One new program, Customer Connect - which uses letter carriers to generate leads to new postal customers - has been a great success. On Long Island $26 million of recurring revenue has been created, and across the country more than $600 million of new revenue has grown.

This kind of program just goes to show what many postal workers and their customers already know: that letter carriers and other workers know their communities well and have a special bond with them.

They don't just deliver the mail, they deliver support and help in ways that go beyond the job description.

The annual letter carrier food drive in May collects more than 70 million pounds of food for the less fortunate across the nation. Since 1995 Long Islanders have contributed between 800,000 to 1.4 million pounds of food annually.

Many other letter carriers volunteer their time and have spent years working in their communities for their local fire departments. They also support Long Island charities with payroll contributions through the United Way of Long Island, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Letter carriers also help the community as they do their jobs. Tim Jones of Baldwin, to take one example of many, knew an elderly woman on his route who lived alone. He became concerned when he saw mail accumulating in her mail box. Jones knew she had a niece on his route, and he contacted her. Together, they found the woman on the floor of her home and were able to save her.

The Postal Service has existed as an essential member of our local communities for more than 234 years. Every possible effort should be made to help this institution survive and flourish.

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