Since its inception, the United States Postal Service has played a vital role connecting Americans for the price of a stamp. In many small N.M. communities, such as Medanales and Lake Arthur, the post office is the equivalent of the town square. And, for many Americans, the USPS is not just how they get their online orders and prescriptions delivered; it’s their only means of connectivity to the rest of the world.
Yet, year after year, we hear proposals to scale back operations that strike fear in the heart of Americans – rural, low-income and elderly Americans, especially. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced plans recently to slow mail delivery standards and cut hours at some post offices as part of a 10-year strategy to stabilize the agency. His plan also includes consolidating underused post offices, a postage-rate increase and detailed investments in new delivery vehicles.
Facing $160 billion in losses over the next decade, postal executives say they need to cut costs and modernize. And while an update is in order, the fact is that while the USPS gets no tax dollars, Congress has burdened it with unreasonable fiscal restrictions: it requires it to pre-fund its retiree pensions and health care at a ridiculous 100% up to the year 2056; mandates it invest only in government bonds; forbids it to lower prices to increase business; and won’t allow it to add new products that compete with the private sector. In addition, the USPS is sitting on a gold mine of land and buildings, more than 8,400 facilities covering 200 million square feet of interior space and 900 million square feet of land. Moving to make many of its real estate holdings more than squat, one-story buildings with large surface parking lots to allow development/re-development to include commercial and residential uses would provide not only rental income, but also urban renewal.
Members of N.M.’s congressional delegation and their colleagues need to step in and set the USPS up for success with reasonable pension funding and investment opportunities, competitive products and pricing, and plans to maximize real estate holdings. That’s the answer to long-term viability for the post office, instead of expecting impossible financial metrics to finally add up, and encouraging officials such as DeJoy to frighten Americans with threats of cutbacks and price increases.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.