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Editorial: Keeping the USPS alive

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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Unless we plan on sending enough mail — millions of extra letters and packages — to help keep the U.S. Postal Service afloat, we may soon experience the limitations of mail delivery, such as occurring only five days a week. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report earlier this year, a U.S. Senate committee passed a bill that would allow, starting in 2017, the delivery service to reduce its schedule to operations occurring only on weekdays should its deliveries fall to under 140 billion pieces per year. In response to this, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, has stated that he will cosponsor an amendment to maintain six-day delivery, as reported in the Des Moines Register on June 25.

Considering the importance of receiving the mail — especially in rural communities — the Daily Iowan Editorial Board supports Latham in his decision to uphold the capabilities of the Postal Service.

The Postal Service has arguably been one of America’s best long-running inventions. The idea, coming originally from Benjamin Franklin, of providing consistent mail delivery in all conditions all over the country — even connecting the United States with the rest of the world — is commendable, and the success the Postal Service has had fulfilling its role as a vital part of networking on such a grand scale is astounding. According to numbers posted on its website, the Postal Service employed just under half of a million workers, making it one of the largest domestic employers. Your probably know your mail carrier, or you’ve at least seen her or him on a regular enough basis to recognize the person.

Unfortunately, as the same statistics show, employment has been declining steadily since the turn of the century, be it from declining necessity, more efficient delivery methods, retirement, or a combination of the three. The numbers are depressing. According to the same Bloomberg article, the Postal Service has been racking up major debt. The service owes 10s of billions of dollars in pension payments and other costs. Logically, it makes sense for the service to make cuts where they’re needed, if only to survive, but doing so in the form of a shorter delivery week is harmful to the millions of Americans in rural communities who rely on mail to stay connected.

When the Postal Service started its Rural Free Delivery Program with a test run in 1890, it perhaps did not realize that it would play a key role in promoting the development of western America.

Today, as the service describes it, its rural delivery service serves more than 30 million rural homes and businesses. According to an article in the Washington Post, proposed closings of post offices to cut operating costs would most heavily affect rural areas, many of which see high poverty rates and less-than-exemplary Internet connectivity. A five-day delivery system would effectively cut many of these citizens off from the rest of the world for the length of the weekend. While an idea has been proposed to continue package delivery on Saturdays — thanks to the surge in online shopping — business matters requiring mailed letters would be cut short.

One way to stop the decline of the Postal Service would be to raise the price of postage, though that could result in fewer items being mailed — explaining the massive popularity of the forever stamp since its release in 2007. Another option — one that might make more fiscally conservative persons cringe — would be to provide federal assistance to the service.

This idea would face obvious, albeit rightly founded, criticism of government spending to bail out businesses. The government assistance of banks “too big to fail” in 2008 received an outlash of negative national attention — rightly so. Making the discussion even messier was news of Postal Service executives receiving large salaries despite record losses in 2011 and 2012 — though it’s worth noting that reported numbers for Postal Service executive salaries are much lower than many large bank executives’. It also seems that the service prides itself on running purely on delivery revenues, despite the financial pinching it faces. 

While it is a touchy subject, the federal government spending money to keep the Postal Service afloat is a possible solution that the Editorial Board supports. While we understand the criticism such a plan would endure, we also understand the importance of keeping such an effective, historically rooted service alive. Doing so would help keep Americans employed and connected.

Whatever action is taken, we’re excited that Latham is acting in the interest of keeping snail mail alive.


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