- - Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Along with political coverage and analysis generally regarded as top-flight, The Washington Times apparently also possesses a good sense of humor.

In late December it ran a cartoon in which Santa suggested that other than around Christmas, nobody much uses the U.S. Postal Service.

Lest any of its readers take this seriously, I’d like to provide some information about the actual state of affairs at USPS — and on the many thousands of mail routes letter carriers traverse six and even seven days a week as they deliver to 156 million residences, businesses and other institutions.

We deliver an average of 506 million pieces of mail daily — which requires the processing of 351,656 letters a minute.

Though we’re especially busy at Christmas, delivering more packages than any private carrier, these figures show that holidays or not, Americans make abundant use of the post office.

Annually, letter carriers deliver about 154 billion pieces of mail to their fellow Americans. On average, 3,748 new addresses are added daily to the postal network. In all, the Postal Service handles an astonishing 47 percent of the world’s mail.

But the numbers are just part of the story.

Based in the Constitution, because the Founders understood its role in uniting this vast nation, the Postal Service is the country’s only universal delivery network.

Without using a dime of taxpayer money for its operations (by law it earns its revenue), USPS provides Americans and their businesses with the industrial world’s most-affordable delivery network. As such, it is a vital part of the U.S. economy.

The Postal Service is the core of the $1.4 trillion national mailing industry, which employs 7 million Americans in the private sector.

It’s the largest civilian employer of military veterans, with more than 113,000 gracing the postal workforce.

Those are the facts, each easily verifiable.

Here’s one more: Every day, from coast to coast, letter carriers save lives, stop crimes in progress, rescue people from wrecked cars, put out fires or find missing children — because they care about the neighborhoods and families they serve.

They also watch for signs that an elderly patron is in distress and needs help. (Carriers do this routinely, but there also is a program — Carrier Alert — that families can sign up for, free of charge, for homebound, elderly or disabled relatives.) And, letter carriers annually hold the nation’s largest one-day food drive, collecting tens of millions of pounds of food to feed hungry Americans — including many children and veterans.

Now, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about the Postal Service.

The notion of privatization, called for by some, fails on several counts. It overlooks both the Constitution and the fact that USPS provides the best rates anywhere. Those European nations that have moved toward postal privatization (including Britain and Germany) often charge up to three times what USPS does.

And, they target an agency highly popular with the public. A Gallup poll in early January asked people to rate 13 key government agencies. The Postal Service led with a 74 percent positive rating. USPS also enjoys strong bipartisan support among legislators from both metropolitan and rural areas.

USPS’ relationship with the private sector is sometimes misrepresented. The Postal Service delivers millions of the private carriers’ packages the “last mile” — saving them money because letter carriers go to every address anyway, while generating revenue for USPS.

At the same time, a December Consumer Reports study comparing delivery services by FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service, concluded: “(I)f cost is your main concern, we found that the Postal Service is often the way to go, though you should still shop around. And unlike the others, the Postal Service also offers a premium service that can deliver on Christmas Day in major markets.”

Finally, as regards postal finances, USPS’ red ink is often mischaracterized. It stems principally from a 2006 congressional mandate that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits decades in advance and pay for it within 10 years — something required of no other public or private entity.

That annual charge of about $5.8 billion accounts for more than 90 percent of the red ink since the law took effect in 2007. Previously, there was no red ink.

Most recent years, USPS has operated in the black, with earned revenue exceeding normal business expenses by about $1 billion annually. In Fiscal Year 2017, the first stamp price rollback since 1919 helped produce an operating loss.

Fortunately, pre-funding and the pricing process are being reexamined. What will benefit Americans and their businesses aren’t radical schemes proposed by ideologues, rather commonsense adjustments to public policy.

Once made, they’ll allow this national treasure to continue providing residents and businesses with the excellent service they deserve — with no taxpayer money and with all the added value mentioned above.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers

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