BY TERRY KAOLULO – I am a letter carrier in Hawaii. Out of 150 million homes and businesses that the Postal Service delivers to, around the country, six days a week, my route consists of 667 addresses, mostly apartment (condo) buildings in the heart of downtown Kailua. I was born and raised in this beach community and attended school here. Now I proudly deliver to my own hometown.
Having been a letter carrier for 26 years, it still amazes me that beyond delivering the mail to residents and businesses, letter carriers also play a larger role in our communities, one that is vital in so many ways. Carriers in my post office alone have found – and saved – elderly residents who were ill or injured.
Just last week a carrier servicing a mailbox witnessed a mother backing her car without seeing her toddler behind it. Quick response from the carrier avoided a tragic incident. Acts such as these and many others occur all across our nation quite frequently as reported in our union’s monthly publication, The Postal Record. http://nalc.org/news/precord/index.html
These actions aren’t covered in the price of a stamp but the stamp is what places us in these sometimes critical situations. We also conduct the nation’s largest single-day food drive, replenishing food pantries in Hawaii and throughout the United States.
Despite this level of community involvement, the misinformation circulating about the Postal Service is startling. We see this every day, but rarely as vividly as in the recent column by Charles Memminger. His piece was entertaining enough – to be expected since he is a humorist – but on a topic this important, your readers deserve to be fully and accurately informed so they can form their own views.
Allow me to simply provide some facts – all easily verifiable – about the USPS, so readers will have context next time someone cites multibillion dollar losses or potential taxpayer bailouts.
For starters, the Postal Service hasn’t been budgeted a dime of taxpayer money for more than a quarter century. Its revenue comes from selling its products and services to residents and businesses, at the best rates in the industrialized world. Customer satisfaction and on-time delivery are at record highs. Further, the USPS has run a net operational PROFIT delivering the mail. Despite the worst recession in 80 years, despite internet diversion, the USPS has taken in more money from postal operations than it spends. Over the past four fiscal years, revenues exceeded costs by $611 million.
The Postal Service’s financial problems in recent years have surprisingly little to do with mail delivery, or with, as Mr. Memminger so eloquently puts it, “delivering stuff.” Rather, they stem from the 2006 congressional mandate that the USPS pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years, and so within 10 years. What other public agency or private firm does that? None! These roughly $5.5 BILLION annual payments that we have made since 2007 ($21 billion total) are the difference between a positive and negative ledger.
Remove this unreasonable obligation and the Postal Service would have been profitable. And it also wouldn’t have to borrow any of that money that so rankles Mr. Charles Memminger in his Hawaii Reporter column, even though it’s being regularly paid back, with interest and without a payment being missed.
But we are not even asking that the pre-funding obligation be removed. What USPS management, unions, the Postal Regulatory Commission, key Republican and Democratic legislators on postal issues and others are asking of Congress is simply this: Let the Postal Service stop depleting its operating funds to make these payments, and instead allow an internal transfer of funds from its pension SURPLUSES, a reasonable business move.
This is EARNED postal revenue, with ZERO taxpayer involvement. The transfer would leave pensions and retiree health benefits FULLY FUNDED well into the future, while putting the USPS operational budget back on sound financial footing on paper – as it’s been all along in practice.
Several bills filed by Senate and House legislators of both parties (though not the bill from Darrell Issa [R-CA], which would dramatically downgrade services to the public) would accomplish that.
Once this immediate financial hurdle is overcome, the postal community can focus on continuing to adapt to society’s evolving needs. The Internet offers both challenges AND opportunities. For example, more people now pay bills online but more also order on line – and those goods must be delivered. Already, given its universal delivery network, the Postal Service is the last-mile deliverer of many packages for FedEx and UPS, a fast-growing profit maker.
Indeed, despite our humorist’s snide tone about the “worthless” work of marketers and mass mailers, the Postal Service is the central feature in a $1.3 trillion mailing industry that employs seven to eight million people in this country. Jobs of this number should never be taken lightly, especially in this struggling economy.
Mr. Memminger mentions Senator Dan Inouye in his article. In conversations I’ve had with both him and Senator Daniel Akaka, the two Hawaii senators recognize the importance of the infrastructure that the Postal Service possesses in reaching out to each and every American across our nation. And who better to benefit from that than us…in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Terry Kaolulo is the president of the Hawaii State Association of Letter Carriers