PD Editorial: A reckoning comes for Postal dis-Service

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

How’s your mail delivery been lately? Probably pretty lousy. The U.S. Postal Service is a mess these days. Fixing it should be a top priority for the Biden administration and Congress.

No other federal agency touches almost every American’s life with such frequency. Daily, people receive bills, notices, packages, prescriptions and subscriptions. When the Postal Service breaks, as it did last year, it upends lives. Bills arrive late, and people risk not making payments on time. Packages disappear for weeks, arriving well past birthdays or holidays. Late prescriptions endanger health.

The Postal Service hasn’t released data for 2021 yet, but in December only about 40% of first-class mail arrived on time, down from about 90% the year before.

It’s something of a minor civil service miracle that for just the cost of a 55-cent stamp, a letter or bill payment dropped in a blue box on a street corner will reach its destination in a few days or less anywhere in a country. It’s an especially important service for people who lack robust internet access or who live in rural areas that private delivery companies don’t serve because it isn’t profitable.

Ask Democrats where the blame for poor mail service lies, and most will single out Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

DeJoy, a Trump loyalist, took over last year and quickly launched an assault on the Postal Service from the top. Sorting machines disappeared from mail rooms. Overtime was cut for deliverers. It was almost as if DeJoy didn’t want mailed ballots to arrive on time.

That didn’t deter people. Americans voted by mail in record numbers last year, and that’s a change that we hope continues.

Such politicization — whether it’s perception or reality — is awful. The terrible service it led to was even worse.

To be fair, the Postal Service’s woes aren’t all DeJoy’s doing. Some plans for reduced service were in place before he took the job. And the pandemic upended everything.

DeJoy plans to right things with more service cuts and higher prices, according to a report from the Washington Post. The cost of a stamp would increase. The two-day goal for delivering local mail would end. First-class mail no longer would ship by truck, no longer by plane.

When has deeper slashing ever solved anything? Some of those changes might make sense if they were the result of a carefully developed strategy to bolster the Postal Service, not just more cuts.

The Postal Service has other challenges to overcome, too. The postal workers union resists reforms and innovations that might save money. Congress, meanwhile, has placed impossible restraints on the agency over the years. Not least is a requirement to prefund retirement benefits, something no other federal agency must do. That alone is a $70 billion anchor around the Postal Service’s neck.

Restoring postal service, then, will require changes at many levels. Congress must revisit laws and requirements that have proved unworkable. President Joe Biden must fill vacancies on the board of governors that oversees the Postal Service.

And finally, DeJoy must demonstrate he still deserves the job. He is scheduled to testify before a House committee next week. If he doesn’t rise to the occasion and convince Americans that he cares about saving the Postal Service, then Biden will have no choice but to replace him.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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