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Feds to Alaska: Spend permanent fund to rescue bypass mail

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published November 28, 2011

The inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service wants changes to the bypass mail program that helps underpin life in rural Alaska, and even suggests the state dip into its permanent fund to pay for a program that lost $73 million in the last fiscal year, according to the Associated Press.

The inspector general report notes that the financially strapped post office has little leeway to control the program's costs, which subsidizes Alaska's aviation industry, according to the article. The title of the report is "Alaska Bypass: Beyond its Original Purpose."

Alaska's late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens is credited with creating the subsidy in the 1970s to get freight shipped regularly to scores of rural Alaska villages accessible only by air.

The program pays private air carriers to deliver that bulk freight as well as mail. Supporters say it helps rural villages in roadless regions stay linked to the outside world, while also lowering the cost of travel, store-sold groceries and other goods that are often shipped as bulk freight. The freight -- ranging from Cokes to milk to frozen meat -- is delivered directly to private air carriers and doesn't need to be handled by the U.S. Postal Service.

The program has been a target for years as the Postal Service struggles to survive, with Alaska's Congressional delegation countering that mail delivery is considered a right of all Americans, the article notes. Recently, controversial California U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa also suggested the state of Alaska pick up the tab for bypass losses. The inspector general goes so far as to suggest that the state, or the federal government, should reimburse the program for losses. Traditionally, that has been around $50 million a year, a Postal Service official said.