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Senate passes postal reform bill

The Senate on April 25 approved a bipartisan postal reform bill that its sponsors say will put the U.S. Postal Service on firmer financial footing.

The Senate on April 25 approved a bipartisan postal reform bill that its sponsors say will put the U.S. Postal Service on firmer financial footing.

The Senate passed the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S.1789) on a 62-37 vote. The House now must consider the measure.

“This legislation will change the USPS so it can stay alive throughout the 21st Century to serve the people and businesses of this country,” said Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who sponsored the bill. “We’ve also proved that the Senate can confront a real crisis and work together to fix it. There were amendments from the right and amendments from the left but the center held.”

The committee’s ranking member, Susan Collins (R-Maine), a co-sponsor of the measure, said the bill provides a better alternative to the plan proposed by USPS.

“In recent months, we have seen the Postal Service announce a number of draconian measures including the intent to close hundreds of processing plants and implementing disastrous service standard changes,” Collins said in a statement. “Our bill takes a far better approach that helps the Postal Service right size its excess capacity, while still maintaining what is one of the most valuable assets to the Postal Service: its ability to deliver mail overnight to many areas.”

Among other things, the bill would:

• Give the Postal Service access to money that USPS has overpaid into one of its retirement funds; the money would be used to provide incentives to encourage 100,000 retirement-eligible employees to retire;

• Reduce the amount USPS has to pay to pre-fund retiree health benefits by amortizing the costs over 40 years and changing the way the costs are calculated;

• Retain overnight delivery of first class mail, but limit it in some cases to shorter geographic distances;

• Prevent the Postal Service from going to five-day delivery for the next two years; and

• Reform the Federal Employees Compensation Act.

The American Postal Workers Union was measured in its reaction to the bill’s passage.

“Although the bill is flawed, the amended version is far better than the original,” APWU President Cliff Guffey said in a press statement.

Guffey registered his approval of the measure that would return to the Postal Service $11 billion in USPS overpayments to federal pension funds. “Keep in mind, this is money paid by postal customers, workers and the Postal Service — not taxpayers,” Guffey noted.

Guffey also approved of language in the bill that would protect service standards for a minimum of three years. However, the union leader maintained that the bill does not do enough to address the pre-funding issue.

“Although the bill will provide the USPS with limited relief from the requirement to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees, it does not provide sufficient relief. As a result, the USPS will not have access to the capital it needs to meet the challenges of the future,” he said.

Guffey said the bill also will have “devastating consequences” for postal and federal workers who receive compensation from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Program. Among the changes affecting those workers’ compensation beneficiaries, the bill would cut workers’ compensation payments when fully disabled beneficiaries reach full retirement age to encourage them to move out of that system and into the federal retirement system.

The Postal Service Board of Governors expressed disappointment with the Senate bill, which it contends “would not enable the Postal Service to return to financial viability.”

“The board, in working with management, has spent the past two years preparing a comprehensive business plan to make the Postal Service viable so it would not become a liability to the American people,” the board said in a statement. “This plan was validated by outside experts. We stand behind this plan, and we are convinced it is the right approach.”

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