WASHINGTON—The National Newspaper Association this week took a big step forward in its decade-long efforts to preserve universal mail service as Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, introduced the Improving Postal Operations, Service & Transparency Act, iPOST. NNA said it believed the bill would set a positive tone in the 114th Congress to provide the U.S. Postal Service with cash flow flexibility while focusing much needed attention on rural mail service.
NNA President John Edgecombe Jr., publisher of The Nebraska Signal in Geneva, NE, said he believed Carper’s requirement for USPS to work with the Postal Regulatory Commission to measure on-time rural mail service would be welcomed in America’s small towns.
“Service to small towns has demonstrably declined since USPS slowed the mail down by lowering service standards and cutting about half of its mail processing plants out of its network. My concern about this problem has occupied a good portion of my year as NNA president as I have urged our members to keep pushing for change,” Edgecombe said. “We hear complaints from our members about newspaper delivery that have been long-standing and are now intensified. Even more alarming, we get reports about problems with First Class and Priority Mail. When the mail doesn’t work, small towns are isolated and handicapped in their economic development.”
The iPOST bill would require USPS to attach a geographic tag to each ZIP code, identifying it as rural, urban or suburban, and work with the PRC on regular service reports for on-time delivery. The bill also would impose a five-year moratorium on more processing plant closings while the PRC examines whether cuts from 2010 to 2013 took a bigger bite from service than necessary. For fiscal relief, USPS would see an easing of its requirement to prepay retiree health benefits, a push for some employees that take the USPS health plan over the already-paid Medicare benefits, and recalculation by the federal government of actuarial requirements.
For mailers’ pocketbooks, the bill would freeze postal rates through Jan. 1, 2018, while the PRC examines today’s cost-of-living-based price cap to see whether the cap is sustainable. A much-contested 4.3 percent emergency or “exigency” price increase instituted two years ago would remain in the rate base, despite the PRC’s order for USPS to lower rates in April, 2016.
NNA Postal Committee Chair Max Heath said his committee welcomed the Carper bill. The proposal will recast the congressional debate on what to do about USPS’ long-standing financial problems.
“All of us who work closely with USPS appreciate the efforts of Postmaster General Megan Brennan to address NNA’s concerns. I have no doubt that this Postmaster General understands that service cuts have harmed the postal franchise severely and we have appreciated her open door. We are eager for Congress to get moving with a reform bill that gives USPS some financial wiggle room. At the end of the day, this is the nation’s Postal Service and it is up to Congress to set the terms of its performance. NNA is ready to help Congress get the job done, and we thank Senator Carper for getting us off on the right foot,” Heath said.
Edgecombe said NNA’s Congressional Action Team would be rolled into service in the fall to push congressional delegations to complete postal reform.