By Zachary Brown
With all that’s been going on so far in 2021, it’s tough to keep up with it all. So, we thought it would be great to give you an update on the latest news, happenings, and action opportunities regarding the Post Office. And while you may have heard that we, in partnership with our client the NAACP and co-counsel NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, were able to successfully stop the harmful postal delivery and other changes from being implemented during last year’s election season, there is still much work to be done to save the Post Office!
(Partial) Reform May Be on the Way
The fight to save the Post Office has found itself directly in the halls of Congress. (As it should be!) Recently, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Governmental Affairs respectively, introduced the Postal Service Reform Act, a piece of legislation that could serve as key step towards restructuring the United States Postal Service and creating financial stability for the future. Most notably, this legislation eliminates the harmful requirement that the USPS must prefund future retiree health insurance and instead automatically enrolls retirees into Medicare, freeing up an estimated $46 billion over the next decade. Under a provision of the 2006 Postal Accountability Act, the Post Office is required to pre-fund their employee retirement healthcare expenses 75 years in advance. This pre-funding mandate has long since financially restrained the USPS, forcing the agency to jump over an almost impossible financial hurdle that no other federal agency is required to perform. Even better? The bill already has bipartisan support and could see a floor vote soon. The recently introduced Senate version of the bill matches a House version introduced earlier in the year by Chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and we will continue to push for its passage.
Postal Banking Progress
Of course, while we are happy to see a version of postal reform legislation moving through Congress that fixes the pre-funding mandate, we at Public Citizen are especially excited that the legislation includes new language that allows the USPS to experiment and explore new revenue streams by providing non-postal products and services to members of the public. This key addition opens the door to innovative revenue streams like Postal Banking, which has the added benefit of closing the banking gap. And since we already see the private banks and their lobbyists striking back against public banking proposals, it’s very encouraging to see legislation proposing taking off USPS’s handcuffs and allowing the agency the freedom to modernize.
We can also find additional hope of a postal banking reality again in the U.S. in the near future due to some recent developments. While the Postal Service Reform Act does include language that could potentially open the door to postal banking, we have the chance to take an even larger step towards our goal: Public Citizen and our allies are currently pushing for $6 million in postal banking funding to create pilot programs across the nation to be included in the FY2022 Appropriations budget package. Spearheaded in Congress by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and House members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), this funding would help communities across the nation receive financial services from their local post office. And we have good news! The postal banking pilot provision has been included in the House report of the FY2022 government funding bill (page 110 in case you wanted to take a peek.) And while it’s always nice to celebrate victories when we can, Public Citizen will continue to work alongside members of the Save the Post Office Coalition to advocate for inclusion of the $6 million for pilot projects as appropriations bills move forward.
DeJoy Just Being DeJoy
As if his subpar leadership wasn’t bad enough (his 10-year plan to revamp the Post Office actually harms it in numerous ways, including slowing down the delivery of mail and closing Post Offices), controversial Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has made headlines in recent months for being under investigation by the FBI for an alleged illegal campaign finance scheme before his time in government. According to former employees, as reported by the Washington Post, DeJoy pressured workers within his New Breed Logistics company to donate to Republican causes and candidates to later be reimbursed by the company. This alleged “straw donor” scheme used to circumvent campaign finance contribution limits would be a blatant violation of US campaign finance law. And while statute of limitations issues may arise as the case moves forward, these alleged actions are truly inexcusable and just adds to the laundry list of reasons that DeJoy is unfit to hold the Postmaster General position. Chair Maloney said it plainly, stating “Postmaster General DeJoy would not be in his job if he worked for any other company.” We tend to agree, and will continue to advocate against his toxic decision-making and call for him to be removed from the head of the USPS.
The Fight Continues
In addition to DeJoy’s more than dubious campaign-related behavior, one of the reasons he’s been so offensive recently is his rather callous approach to revamping the Post Office through his ten-year plan. Instead of advocating and pushing for expansive ways to bolster the services offered by the Postal Service, DeJoy instead wrongly laid out a plan to chop away at the organization’s standards and services.
And while the implementation of DeJoy’s mail slowdown is set in motion, we at Public Citizen along with our allies have been doing all we can to stop these changes from taking place. Earlier this year, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the body that has oversight of the USPS, had an open hearing in which members of the community could question postal officials on the rationale behind the Postal Services’ plans to lower the mail standards and whether or not they did sufficient research into how these changes may affect vulnerable communities. Public Citizen and our allies with the Save the Postal Service Coalition Long story short: the rationales given by the USPS were logically inconsistent and the research into impacted communities never happened.
But of course, we can’t win the fight alone. During the open comment period for the USPS service standards rulemaking, over 3,700 members of Public Citizen answered the call and got directly involved by submitting comments to the Federal Register voicing their opposition to the mail slowdowns. And likewise, Public Citizen teamed up with NAACP and NAACP Legal Fund to submit a joint comment to the Federal Register urging the USPS to halt these harmful changes.
Ready for more good news? The Postal Regulatory Commission recently issued a 232-page advisory opinion heavily critiquing the proposed rulemaking changes. Not only did the PRC say that there wouldn’t likely be any real savings with the USPS’s proposed slowdowns and other changes but the PRC called some of the assumptions of the Postal Service’s analysis “not grounded in reality.” So, while it’s unfortunate that this advisory opinion isn’t binding (the USPS could still move forward with the harmful changes) it’s definitely positive that the PRC is at least on the same page with public sentiment. It’s going to take all of us working together to keep our Postal Service funded, healthy, and ready for the challenges of the future.
We at Public Citizen thank you for your quick engagement work to save the USPS.