- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a plan Wednesday to rescue the U.S. Postal Service from what they called a “financial death spiral.”

The plan calls for freeing up billions of dollars overpaid into a retirement benefits program to offer buyouts to more than 100,000 postal employees.

The workforce reduction would save the Postal Service about $8 million per year, the lawmakers said at a news conference announcing the plan.

They also called for reforms to the Postal Service’s workers’ compensation program. Another provision in the package would reverse a ban on the postal service shipping wine and beer.

The plan would delay by two years the elimination of home delivery on Saturdays, a move postal officials have been promoting as a key cost-saving measure.

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, said the legislative package would mean some “painful choices” for the Postal Service, adding that “no one will be happy with all of the provisions in our bill.”

“But that is almost always the case when painful decisions are required,” she said.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said the plan would save millions of jobs that depend on the Postal Service.

“Although the situation is dire, it’s not hopeless,” he said, blaming the Postal Service’s collapse on what he called a “troubled economy coupled with the continued migration to electronic forms of communication.”

The key provision in the proposal returns overpayments made by the Postal Service into the Federal Employees Retirement System. Nearly $2 billion of the roughly $8 billion returned would be used for employee buyouts. The Postal Service also could apply the funds to pay down the debt it owes to the Department of the Treasury.

In addition, the plan, called the 21st Century Postal Service Act, would change the way the Postal Service funds its retiree health benefits.

Ms. Collins said she’s been pushing for reforms to the Postal Service’s workers’ compensation program for years. She said many older employees who are well past retirement age still receive workers’ compensation payments, which are more expensive than regular retirement pay. One employee still receiving workers’ compensation is 99-years old, she said.

Art Sackler, coordinator for the 21st Century Postal Service, a private-sector mailing-industry group, called the bill “a smart and balanced approach” based on the details emerging so far. He warned against any increases in postage rates, which are not sought in the bill.

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