Senate passage of Postal Service reform bill met with hope, skepticism
Local leaders are hopeful bill’s passage will help solve challenges
Earlier this week, the U.S. senate passed the Postal Service Reform Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The act provides a $107 billion overhaul of the struggling federal agency, aiming to cut costs and bring more transparency to the agency.
“Senate passage of the Postal Service Reform Act will provide USPS with financial stability to support more reliable delivery and service, especially in Colorado’s mountain and rural communities,” said Sen. Michael Bennet in a statement celebrating the bill’s passage.
The bill will still face the signature of President Joe Biden before becoming a law.
Problems with the postal service, though long-existing, were exacerbated by COVID-19, as the pandemic put pressure on local resources including staffing amid an influx of e-commerce and online sales. Over the past decade, the postal service has seen an increase of 10 million delivery points, without added support to match the increased demand.
For the last 15 years, postal service expenses have outpaced its revenue. In 2021, the total operating expenses for the agency were just under $82 billion, while it’s operating revenue was just over $77 billion — with a net loss totaling 4.93 billion. This net loss was partially down from 2020, when the agency experienced a $9 billion net loss.
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Sen. John Hickenlooper, in a video celebrating the bill’s passage, said it had “our stamp of approval.”
“The U.S. Postal Service is a lifeline to Coloradans, rural and urban alike,” Hickenlooper said in his statement. “Modernizing USPS will ensure mail is on time for generations to come.”
This “modernization,” according to a release from Hickenlooper’s office, is anticipated to come through various mechanisms approved in the bill. This includes:
- Requiring the postal service to maintain its standard 6-day a week delivery
- Requiring the agency to create an online dashboard to track national delivery time
- Allowing the agency to contract with state, local and tribal leaders and governments to offer non-mail services such as hunting and fishing licenses
- Requiring future agency retirees to enroll in Medicare, which is expected to save around $22.7 billion over the next decade
- Eliminating a requirement — put in place by a 2006 bill — to pre-fund health benefits for its employees, which is expected to save the agency around $27 billion in the next decade
The bill will also give the agency financial reprieve as it eliminates $57 billion in past-due postal liabilities and $50 billion in payments for the next decade.
Local leaders respond
Eagle County leaders responded with various degrees of optimism and skepticism over whether or not the bill would bring much-needed changes to local post offices.
Jim White, the interim town manager in Eagle, wrote in an email that the town was “encouraged by the passage of this bipartisan bill.”
“We have been seeking remediation and improved service for many years,” White wrote. “Our former Mayor expressed our concerns in official correspondence previously. Our current Mayor and Town Council encouraged support for this effort as well, and will be grateful that our concerns have been addressed.”
Vail’s Town Manager Scott Robson expressed similar encouragement and excitement around the bill’s passage.
“Having consistent, quality Postal Service is critical for our small communities and the reform bill is a great start,” Robson said.
Most of the Eagle County postal offices are currently — and have been — experiencing delayed and missing mail, space constraints with the buildings themselves, staffing challenges, long waits, unmaintained buildings and more. As such, the hopes for this reform bill — as well as other state and local action — are high.
“I’m hopeful that some of the funding will trickle down to address our rural and mountain town issues,” said Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes. “More importantly, I hope that this recommitment to the USPS will boost employee morale and spur a re-examination of the services that communities really need today and in the future.”
Robson said the town of Vail’s hopes include “continued higher funding allocations for on-the-ground local staffing at post offices in rural areas, along with regular facility improvements and appreciated the USPS’s recent commitment to regular and ongoing meetings with ski towns across Colorado.”
Of course, as with any federal agency, significant, sweeping changes take time.
“Time will tell how effective it will be,” White wrote “We are optimistic that the Federal government has taken it seriously enough to move in this direction.”
Plus, having this funding trickle to local post offices will be critical.
“The local post office staff cannot be expected to provide great service without having the necessary resources,” White added. “With this funding, they will be in a position that is much more likely to succeed.”
Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann said while he hopes the legislation will have the intended effects, he also has “healthy skepticism” about what changes could come Eagle County’s way.
“I’m going to remain optimistic, but big organizations have a lot of inertia and are hard to turn around,” he said. “I don’t think results will be immediately around the corner.”
While the changes from the bill may take some time, local Eagle County and mountain town leaders have been engaged with regional post office leadership and U.S. legislators, including Bennet and Hickenlooper, to bring local change. These efforts are not anticipated to stop with the reform bill’s passage.
Following a regional meeting in February, James Boxrud, Postal Service spokesperson for the Western Area of the United States, said the agency was “committed to working with each town to address their individual needs to every extent possible.”
Boxrud said that follow-up sessions would be planned in the “near future to improve open, positive and solution-oriented communications.”