NNA adds voice to the call for Congressional action on USPS

Tonda Rush

Apr 1, 2021

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy met with NNA members via Zoom on March 19.

Major changes are ahead for the U.S. Postal Service and newspaper mailers, with or without Congressional action on a postal reform plan, but legislative assistance could soften the blows to newspaper mailers.

That was the message from National Newspaper Association’s leadership meeting with the 75th Postmaster General of the United States, Louis DeJoy. His briefing to NNA was followed several days later by the release of a new 10-year strategic plan designed to preserve universal service and head off the need for federal appropriations for mail service.

DeJoy told NNA that USPS was forecasting a $160 billion loss over the next 10 years unless changes were made. He and his leadership team have spent the past eight months devising a new plan to head off financial shortfalls. Among the changes ahead are slower First-Class mail service for mail that previously traveled coast-to-coast by air; higher postage rates; cost-cutting at USPS and possibly Congressional forgiveness of some USPS financial obligations.

He also announced a new local service that will be called USPS Connect, designed to provide drop points for local businesses to use for package distribution. More detail on that service is expected in coming weeks.

DeJoy made it clear to newspaper mailers that they could expect higher postage rates. USPS projects it will gather $44 billion in revenue from higher postage rates over the next 10 years. But he said when the new 10-year plan “Delivering for America” was released that USPS might not have to act on the full pricing authority given it by the Postal Regulatory Commission if Congress passes a postal reform plan.

He called for Congress to proceed with long-considered proposals to roll back the USPS obligation to prefund retiree health care benefits, to bring the full retiree workforce onto Medicare so that the federal health benefits would be the supplemental plan rather than the primary plan, and to refund money that USPS now believes was unfairly held back in 1970 from overpayments by the old Post Office Department into the federal Civil Service Retirement system. DeJoy hopes for a total of about $58 billion from Congress from these three adjustments to USPS benefit plans.

USPS has earlier suggested that rate increases of 6-9% a year for Periodicals mailers are possible.

Brett Wesner, NNA chair and president of Wesner Publications in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, said that mail delays, coupled with the threatened increase in periodical postage, “would be devastating.”

“I understand that,” DeJoy said. “We are mindful of our role in the whole communication process in the country. I look forward from the benefits of our long-term plan to address costs and operating structure. You have something for us to deliver. We are going to be very sensitive to keeping our client base.”

Some postal cost-cutting is already underway. DeJoy reorganized the management teams across the country earlier this year, eliminating some district and regional jobs. A required shift of business mailers into Seamless Acceptance in July, which will cut some business mail acceptance jobs by requiring publishers to submit to a sampling-based verification of each mailing, has already been announced. The new system will increase the possibility of penalties and back postage assessments if mailings are not accurately prepared.

Wesner said NNA was aggressively supporting the call for Congressional action and taking a wait-and-see approach on other changes.

“NNA was very pleased to have the opportunity for direct discussion with General DeJoy,” Wesner said. “We understand we were among the first mailer groups that he addressed as the new strategic plan was being set up to roll out. Potentially, we see both threat and opportunity in the changes ahead. We have made it clear that we need a dramatic improvement in service, and we’ve already seen action on some specific complaints registered during our meeting. Possibly, improvements in the trucking systems from mail processing plants to delivery offices are going to produce better service for newspapers.

“We are clear, however, that our industry has some adjustments ahead. Some of the digital tools that USPS has been refining over the past decade, like Seamless Acceptance, are now moving from the carrot-and-stick enforcement to mostly sticks and few carrots. NNA plans to step up its training programs in the months ahead to help publishers and printers be ready for the changes to come.

“Meanwhile, we are focused on our primary mission: informing Congress that we want our elected representatives to do their part in maintaining universal service. We are asking Congressional leadership to move ahead with all urgency on postal reform.”

Tonda Rush is the director of public policy and serves as general counsel to the National Newspaper Association. Email her at tonda@nna.org