The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Mail business

I grew up loving the post office.

Yes, I know I’m a nerd, and yes, I know that sounds a little strange. But I have my reasons.

I just love the idea of mail — I like the act of physically writing out a letter, of addressing an envelope and putting it in a mailbox, of receiving it. There’s something about the anticipation of opening an enclosure with unknown contents that captivates me.

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Then, of course, the post office in my town of 1,000 people served as a catch-all place for services — notarization, passport applications, etc.

And last, my dad is a rural mail carrier and has been for my whole life. I’ve seen first-hand the good a post office can do for a small town and the connections that can be made
because of it.

All of which is why I’m so saddened by the current situation in which the United States Postal Service finds itself.

In mid-2011, the story broke that the USPS, due to a number of circumstances, was very close to defaulting on its $9.2 billion deficit and could face the very real possibility of closure this year.

Everyone, including many media outlets, made a very big deal about the Postal Service’s shortfall in profits in recent years.

But there isn’t really a crisis, per se. It’s a manufactured emergency that is a result of an accounting snafu and congressional restrictions.

Yes, the Postal Service does have very real problems that it will need to fix before it can even begin to think about pulling meaningful numbers in profits, but its problems aren’t just the mass moves to email, e-billing and e-shopping.

In 2007, Congress mandated that the Postal Service prefund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years — something no other government agency or private company has to do — and do that within a decade.

In case you don’t want to do the math, that’s $5.5 billion a year — not an easy sum to come up with, especially for an agency that was already struggling financially.

And the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that Congress passed in 2006 makes it nearly impossible for the USPS to raise their rates to adjust for anything beyond inflation.

Under basic economic principles, that takes away one of two options to cover costs leaving cutting costs.

Because of that, the USPS is cutting $3 billion from its budget to try to cover that $5.5 billion payment for retiree benefits.

What that means for us is slower delivery times and fewer post offices and processing centers, particularly in the rural areas that depend on them the most.

Basically, Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission are trying to “save” the USPS by gradually turning in to a service no one would ever want to use.

Congress expects the Postal Service to be run like a business yet still be fully accountable to them.

As a slow-moving legislative body with more pressing matters to take care of, Congress can’t possibly oversee everything the Postal Service does in the time frame any viable business would need.

If the Postal Service is to function as a business, they need to be treated as such and given autonomy to make business decisions.

Congress has to pick what they want the Postal Service to be — a government organization or a private business — and they have to do it soon.

They certainly can’t have it both ways.

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