USPS hearing: ‘Dire' financial straits, but little new

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

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WASHINGTON, April 19, 2013 - The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee retread ground Thursday, as Postmaster General Patrick Donohue once again asked Congress to rescue the Postal Service from its “dire” financial situation.

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The hearing marks the first time Donohue has appeared before lawmakers since USPS backed away from its five-day delivery plan at the beginning of this month, citing provisions in the March continuing resolution.

Donohue reiterated that his Postal Service is losing $25 million a day - a total of almost $16 billion in 2012 and $41 billion since 2006. Though the Postal Service has introduced a Government Accountability Office-endorsed five-year plan to triage the losses, objections to the proposed changes have been raised by rural advocates, unions and a number of lawmakers.

Those changes include the shift from six to five-day delivery and a controversial overhaul of employee benefits. “More than 20 cents of every revenue dollar the Postal Service takes in goes toward health care costs,” Donohue pointed out in his prepared testimony. Legislation from 2006 forces the quasi-governmental agency to prefund retiree benefits; the Postal Service is the only agency required to prefund benefits. USPS says it has defaulted on more than $11 billion in prefunding payments.

But House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., says release from congressionally-mandated funding would simply pass the costs on to taxpayers.

All these arguments, however, had been heard before - and many were heard over and over again during the lengthy four-hour hearing. Indeed, a number of lawmakers appeared restless: “Instead of going through these same issues every year in these hearings...why don't we just pass a bill?” asked Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

The Senate passed a Postal Service reform bill in August 2012, but the House has yet to complete its own legislation.

When Donohue announced the move to five-day delivery in February, his proposal received criticism from a number of rural and farm groups, who argued that the changes would disproportionately affect their members.

“Many rural USPS customers depend heavily on weekend delivery, and eliminating it would have a negative impact on rural America,” said Chandler Goule, vice president of government relations for the National Farmers Union. “In many cases, local and regional newspaper delivery to outlying areas will be delayed for days. This not only damages the circulation numbers of the newspaper, but also devalues local information and advertising.”


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