1,100 community papers ask for postal reform

Nov 1, 2016

By Tonda F. Rush
Director of Public Policy | NNA

What happens when 1,100 newspapers speak with one voice to Congress about the need for reliable mail service?

Postal reform! Or at least that is what National Newspaper Association hoped when it sent a letter Oct. 20 to every member of the House of Representatives. NNA joined in the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service to request prompt action in the lame-duck 114th Congress to save the U.S. Postal Service from creating more cuts in service.

NNA is seeking action on HR 5714, the Postal Service Reform Act of 2016, sponsored by leading postal experts in the House, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, and Elijah Cummings, D-MD. The bill passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in July, but did not see action on the House floor before Congress recessed to campaign for the Nov. 8 elections. Now, according to NNA, House Speaker Paul Ryan must act emphatically in late November to save newspapers from facing the trauma of slower mail and higher postage rates.

The bill’s primary purpose is to shift about 77,000 postal retirees who contributed to Medicare, but forgo those benefits in favor of a more costly postal medical plan, to actually use Medicare instead. About $30 billion sits unused in the federal treasury that was contributed for these employees’ retirement. Requiring them to use this fund would relieve USPS of the obligation created in the 2006 Congress to prepay retirees’ health benefits—a $5 billion annual contribution that plunged the postal system into red ink almost immediately. The bill also would require the federal government to calculate postal benefits by using postal-only actuarial data, rather than relying on the life expectancies of the full federal work force. The combined effects would save USPS billions of dollars. Mailers hope it would make the system solvent again without having to institute major service cuts.

Just to be sure, NNA asked that the bill be amended before final passage to ensure greater attention by regulators to reliable service.

HR 5714 also institutes a 2.15 percent postage increase. Without the increase and the Medicare integration, mailers fear the Postal Regulatory Commission will institute double-digit increases when it begins its review of postal rate-setting in 2017.

NNA President Matt Paxton said the 1,100 newspaper signatures on the Congressional letter demonstrated the deep reliance of newspapers upon reliable mail delivery.

“At the NNA convention this year, we heard many tales of woe about lost subscribers. What I thought was interesting is that we are also hearing about tight cash flows at many newspapers because the First Class Mail with checks inside is not being delivered on time. The stress placed on mail service to small towns after the closing of mail processing plants in the past half-decade has been severe. While we see improvement in some areas where NNA and the Postal Service has conducted special studies, this process is like emptying the ocean with a thimble. We need system-wide improvement, and we most emphatically cannot stand more plant closings and service standard cuts,” he said.

Paxton thanked NNA members and a number of state press associations that solicited key signatures from newspapers that use the mail.

“We have a big voice when we need to use it. Now our job is to make sure our members of Congress realize we need action before they go home in December,” Paxton said.

A copy of the letter to Congress is available at www.nnaweb.org.