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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

3/18/2014 (11 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

If the USPS were a private business, they'd be out of business.

The U.S. Postal Service, beloved by some, loathed by others, is $99.8 billion in debt and it does not appear that without drastic action from Congress the troubled agency will ever be salvaged.

The Post Office has been upside-down with debt for decades. Now that debt is growing rapidly.

The Post Office has been upside-down with debt for decades. Now that debt is growing rapidly.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/18/2014 (11 months ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: USPS, liability, funding, costs, price, solutions


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - CNSNews outlined the numbers earlier this week, breaking down the unfunded liabilities faced by the USPS as reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Postal Service faces these liabilities:

$48.3 billion, retiree health care
$17.2 billion, workers' compensation
$19.8 billion, federal pension plan for workers hired before 1984
$500 million, federal pension plan for workers hired after 1984
$15 billion, outstanding debt

And those liabilities have increased by 62 percent since 2007.

CNSNews reports via the GAO that the USPS is "high risk" and continues to lose even more money that projected.

The USPS has borrowed all the money it can from the Treasury and cannot legally borrow any more, unless Congress changes the law to permit additional borrowing.

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The USPS says that a steady decline in first class mail which is expected to continue in the years to come, means the agency will make less and less money. The service says it may have to cut deliveries to save money. Already, the proposal to end Saturday service has been put forward by the Postal Service, but public backlash caused Congress to cut the proposal, despite the fact the cut would have saved billions of dollars.

There remains a debate over what to do next. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a favorite on the left, recently proposed one novel solution that could help. Warren proposed replacing payday lenders, which many accuse of being predatory, with a bank-USPS partnership.

Banks, she noted in her proposal, are sometimes difficult to access for the poorest Americans and large banks also tend to ignore the financial needs of these citizens. By cooperating with financial institutions and converting portions of USPS facilities to extend basic banking infrastructure to poor communities, the USPS may see an increase in revenues.

The USPS would not manage the money, but would essentially rent out part of their space to financial institutions. This plan may gain traction as the payday loan business suffers a hard crackdown by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Payday lenders, who often extend small cash loans and cash checks for fees may be regulated out of business or even outlawed in the coming years. At the least, it will end triple-digit interest rates, but it may also deprive poor communities of the only immediate resource they have for cashing checks and borrowing money.

Partnering with banks that agree to play fair could provide easier access to banking and financial services that the poor need. It could also help finance the Postal Service.
Projections suggest this would bring $9 billion in annual income to the USPS. However, this is less than 10 percent of the funds the USPS needs to remain solvent.

There are still other questions. How much of the postal service's paid staff could be replaced by automation? In recent decades improvements in technology have substantially reduced the workforce needs as well as speeding the pace of mail delivery. Are there further improvements that can be made?

The USPS is beloved by many Americans because it is still the least expensive way to communicate by letter. Private firms such as UPS and Federal Express charge a lot more for sending packages, although they do so more rapidly and generate profits while doing so. Still, no person wants to be charged several dollars to send a Christmas card. Therefore, we're looking at a future where taxpayers continue to subsidize the postal service-even if they never use it. That raises an issue of fairness, not to mention efficiently, if the money to find the service has to be filtered through the federal government first.

Ultimately, the USPS, as beloved as it might be, cannot finance its own operation. In the world of private business, it would be out of service.

A difficult choice must be made. We must either accept paying the true cost to mail a letter, which is likely several dollars per, or we need to reduce the staff and operation of the USPS to the point it can finance itself.

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