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Congress at fault for Postal Service woes

Shannyn Moore

Every town and burg has some form of post office. In small towns, it's often where folks see announcements for memorial services or spaghetti feed fundraisers. The flags are always flying, no matter how small the post office.

I remember one time the Homer post office had to call the Harris family because the horned toads their grandpa mailed them from Texas were loose. Boxes of baby chicks were a sign of spring. I remember the combination to our P.O. box in the 99556 office: 3-1-6. (I remembered it from Sunday school, John 3:16.) My grandmother sent us a letter once a week. "My dear children," every one began. We didn't have a phone. Our lifeline to loved ones and new school clothes was that little building with Miss Carol always remarking on how tall we were getting.

At one point, my post office was a little building on a floating dock for twice-a-week mail delivery. Anyone who has been here for a shake of time can wax on all day about their local post office and its central place in the community.

Which brings me to this. I'd like to smack half of Congress, particularly the Republican half.

The United States Postal Service has been a tremendous institution that linked every town in this country. You can't buy anything for 45 cents any more -- except a stamp. That 45 cents gives you planes, trains and automobiles for as many miles as it takes to deliver your mail. Businesses and politicians send out bulk mail every day.

Since 1971, not one dime of taxpayer money has funded the U.S. Postal Service. It is entirely self-sufficient and efficient; your stamps and payment for other services finance the 32,000 post offices across the country.

For years we've been hearing from the GOP that the government is horrible -- then they run for office and prove it. They couldn't stand to have the USPS humming along, getting the job done day in and day out, so they gave it a poison pill.

In 2006, with all the wisdom of a walnut, a Republican Congress and the Bush White House decided to require the postal service to pre-fund health care for its employees. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act wasn't just for current postal workers but for every employee for the next 75 years. Wait, I want you to understand this important fact: The USPS is required to pre-pay health care benefits for future employees who haven't been born yet.

If any other company had been required by Congress to do the same, they'd have gone to court and slam-dunked it.

In 2002, a 40-year-old accounting error was discovered. The postal service had been overcharged by nearly $80 billion for payments into the Civil Service Retirement System.

Since 2007, the USPS has paid more than $20 billion to pre-fund the health benefits of employees. While banks were being bailed out, the postal service was being bent over.

This past week, the USPS defaulted on a $5.5 billion payment. It won't be able to pay the $5.6 billion bill due next month, either.

This was completely avoidable.

You might feel a little guilt if you pay your bills online, use email and don't remember the last time you actually mailed a birthday card -- you know you're not the postal customer you used to be.

But that isn't what caused this crisis. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, on Wednesday said, "... 224 years after the Constitution was ratified -- Congress is presiding over the disestablishment of the Postal Service. Today a manufactured default created by congressional legislation is pushing the Postal Service to the brink."

Congress is at fault. The USPS proposed to stop Saturday delivery to save money. Congress pushed that decision out two years. Huh? Why? USPS said it will have to close 3,700 offices this year to save money.

What has Congress done? The 111th Congress has introduced 427 bills to name or rename post office buildings. Seventy have passed. Thirteen percent of the legislation signed by the president this year has been to name post offices.

But none of these facts has kept Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the committee that oversees the Post Office, from yammering on about labor costs and how the postal service is going broke.

Yes, the postal service is going broke -- because you're requiring it to pay now for the health care of the unborn workers of the future.

Our communities, no matter how far-flung, deserve better.

Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. statewide on ABC affiliate KYUR Anchorage, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau.


Shannyn Moore
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