The postmaster general’s not-so-bright idea has managed to put the Postal Service on the chopping block with a first whack of $3 billion in cuts that affect first class “one day” mail for the first time in 40 years. But that’s not all . . .
Around half of the nation’s post offices would close, delaying the time it takes for mail to travel from mailbox to processing center to mailbox. Cuts are expected to lengthen service on check payments, prescription drugs and time-sensitive magazines, newspapers, and DVDs sent by mail. But the effects go deeper on a human level, affecting the poor living in low-income urban neighborhoods and hardscrabble rural areas where most of the cuts are taking place. Millions of people can’t pay their pills online, or even afford a computer, not to mention ongoing Internet connection costs. Somewhere I can hear Sophie Tucker singing, “After I’ve gone, you’re gonna miss me, baby,” and then it’ll be too late. Some 3,650 post offices will be gone—or more.
If you live in a low-income and rural area, you’re in for long walks or gas-guzzling trips to other towns or extra bus or subway fares if your P.O. gets axed. If you’re waiting for your Social Security check or other check, it might pose a real obstacle to getting your hands on either to use. Unfortunately, 3,000 of 3,500 post offices slated for cutting have annual earnings of $27,000, according to Save the Post Office. Also, the “unbanked” will miss the opportunity to buy certifiable money orders with which to pay their bills or send money to relatives in other states or countries.
Then, too, cutting P.O.’s now will drive remaining businesses online, which is a bad business idea. And it will hurt thousands and thousands of small businesses that rely on post office delivery services. The amount of lost revenue will be hard to calculate for both parties. For instance, the Postal Service’s parcel business is actually doing well now in spite of the bad economy: first class parcels up 9.7% and standard parcels up 6.7%. In the macro view, as Save the P.S. tells us, the “massive infrastructure of the Postal Service is a unique federal asset that can be called upon during a major disaster . . . when power and phone lines are useless.”
Postal Service workers came to the fore during Katrina to “reestablish communications, to reopen lines of commerce, and to deliver government information, relief checks, and medicine to hurricane victims living in makeshift shelters.” Amen. But the real sin here is that “some 120,000 postal workers might get laid off if the mean old Postmaster General convinces Congress to remove the no-layoff clause from union contracts.”
As a Postal Service consumer, you may not think it’ll make a difference, and you won’t have to wait on those occasional long lines. Once again I hear Sophie singing, “After I’ve gone, you’re gonna miss me, baby.” But the mean old postmaster general says he’d like to close half the country’s post offices in the next six years. To me, it seems like it won’t look like America without those stately buildings, often beautiful historic buildings, scattered throughout the rural, suburban and urban landscapes. Walmart won’t be the same, especially for passports and emergency preparedness. Post offices, despite being made a quasi-governmental independent operation when President Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act in 1971, still stand, in people’s minds, for the federal government and remind the people it can do at least one thing right.
On the other hand, if you are a Bloomberg Businessweek person, and you’re thinking bottom-line only, it may be a different story . . .
The 100,000 postal employees could be cut as a result of the various closures, resulting in savings of up to $6.5 billion a year.
Expressing urgency to reduce costs, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in an interview that the agency has to act while waiting for Congress to grant it authority to reduce delivery to five days a week, raise stamp prices and reduce health care and other labor costs [that all sounds like fun. Not.]
The Postal Service, an independent agency of government, does not receive tax money, but is subject to congressional control on large aspects of its operations. The changes in first-class mail delivery can go into place without permission from Congress.
After five years in the red, the post office faces imminent default this month on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the Treasury for retiree health benefits. It is projected to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year amid steady declines in first-class mail volume. Donahoe has said the agency must make cuts of $20 billion by 2015 to be profitable.
It already has announced a 1-cent increase in first-class mail to 45 cents beginning Jan. 22.
Well, of course, if you’re turning your service down you’re dialing your losses up. How about a Postal Service bailout? Yes, a bailout, that’s my modest proposal, after seeing the Fed pipeline $7.7 trillion into the too-big-to-fail-banks, spreading the loot in half a dozen ways, loans, easements, low interest, blah, blah, blah. I’d certainly love to see my post office stay. and a few of the worst Big Six banks sink into oblivion. It seems fairer to the 99% of the American people, not just the 1%, who can afford those pricier communication services.
Also, remember mom’s birthday, when you forgot to send the card and the one-day service saved your butt. And that financial report or term paper you had to have on someone’s desk tomorrow. It got there thanks to the P.O. On the larger scale again, with the loss of the U.S. Postal Service, we are losing an institution so intrinsic to holding us together as a people, so much a part of our history and, at the same time, making so many people jobless in a jobless world, it just hurts to think of it. Call me a softy but call the others, the number’s men, the ciphers, heartless zeroes.
The Postal Service is as much an institution from Frank Capra’s era, depression days, as the little banks that still lent to save or give mortgages, as in Capra’s great film, It’s a Wonderful Life. Its hero, George Bailey, only realizes how important he and his family bank were to their little town of Seneca Falls when he attempts to commit suicide over a lost deposit. Fortunately, his guardian angel Clarence shows him what life would have been like without him and the bank if he had succeeded in drowning himself in the river. This brings Bailey and the town back to life. There are some losses we just can’t take. Whether we know it or not, they are part of our very being as Americans.
A long time ago, a settler would have said the same thing about the Pony Express or maybe even Paul Revere. So, I give two thumbs up to the Postal Service, delivering the future with real people for real people. You can paint that line on our trucks guys, no charge.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.