Friday, January 22, 2016

Postal reform likelier than ever; rural papers OK old rate hike if USPS avoids more service cuts

Reform of the U.S. Postal Service has been "the poster child of a do-nothing Congress . . . but movement now seems more likely than it has in a long time," reports Joe Davidson of The Washington Post. And the idea of ending Saturday mail delivery is "a dead letter."

“There is a remarkable degree of consensus across a broad range of stakeholders—including the unions, postal management and a representative sample of mailing industry companies—about the most important reform elements,” Fredric V. Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, told Davidson. A new, key element of the consensus would require eligible postal retirees to take Medicare and reduce the service's health-care costs.

NNA President Chip Hutcheson
Saturday delivery already seemed safe, but passage of a reform bill could prevent further slowdowns in rural mail delivery, Chip Hutcheson, publisher of The Times-Leader in Princeton, Ky., and president of the National Newspaper Association, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Thursday.

Hutcheson said a survey found that more than 92 percent of NNA members have had recent problems getting newspapers through the mail on time, and nearly half reported problems with first-class or priority mail. Delays have resulted from closing of many mail processing plants, he said.

"Congress has been trying since 2008 to reach agreement on legislation to help the Postal Service address falling mail volumes but still serve every household in America," NNA noted in a news release. Hutcheson urged Congress to act before April, when USPS finances are expected to worsen by $1 billion because of a court-ordered rollback in postage rates. Though rural newspapers would benefit from that, NNA says the rollback shouldn't happen because it would worsen the service's finances.

“NNA’s support for suspending the mandate to roll back postage rates in April is contingent upon the Postal Service’s commitment to enact no further systematic service cuts and to live within its means without more exigency increases,” Hutcheson said. “To us, that translates into suspending further plant closings and continuing the postmaster general’s commendable efforts to trim costs without risking more mail volume loss through service cuts.”

Hutcheson commended USPS for starting a study of on-time delivery for rural areas. Noting that a third of rural residents do not have broadband service, he reminded the committee that rural areas depend on print communications and the mail in general. A copy of his statement is available here.

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