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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Congress approves legislation to return the Postal Service to solvency

Postal trucks parked outside a post office in Asheville, N.C., March 5, 2021.

By Emily Cochrane

Congress gave final approval earlier this week to the most sprawling overhaul of the Postal Service in nearly two decades, sending President Joe Biden legislation intended to return the beleaguered agency to solvency and address pandemic-era mail delays.

The Senate voted 79-19 to approve the measure, which passed the House last month with overwhelming bipartisan support. Biden was expected to sign the bill, which the agency’s leadership and an array of interest groups support.

“This legislation will have the same operational and financial impacts as the self-help steps we are taking at the Postal Service to provide the American people with the delivery service they expect and deserve,” Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, said in a February statement after House passage of the measure.

The Postal Service, arguably one of the most beloved federal agencies, has been on the brink of insolvency for years, largely because of a 2006 law that requires the agency to fund retiree health care benefits for its employees in advance. In 2020, a slowdown of mail delivery and a series of operational changes before the election prompted renewed scrutiny, and Congress doubled down on efforts to reform the agency’s structure and address its financial woes.

The legislation removes the retirement mandate and instead requires retired Postal Service employees to enroll in Medicare when they are eligible, a change that lawmakers and agency officials estimated would save $50 billion over a decade.

“The post office usually delivers for us, but today we’re going to deliver for them,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “For the past few months, Democrats and Republicans have been working together in good faith to reform some of the most troubled parts of the Postal Service.”

The agency faced renewed scrutiny partly because of a series of reported mail delays before the 2020 election, in which a record number of votes were cast by mail. That year, Democrats sparred with DeJoy, a megadonor who supported former President Donald Trump, over a series of cost-cutting measures, which were later postponed until after the election.

“Our country is pretty divided right now, let’s be honest,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a key sponsor of the bill, said in a recent floor speech. “But one enduring reality about our country is that we have a post office that ties us all together, and everybody depends on that post office.”

The legislation also moves to address concerns about the agency’s continued service, after Democrats pushed back when the Postal Service issued a 10-year strategic plan last year that proposed reducing hours and lengthening delivery times. Instead, the measure that passed the Senate on Tuesday mandates a delivery standard of at least six days a week.

The bill would also impose new transparency standards for the agency, requiring regular reports to Congress about the Postal Service’s financial state and the publication of delivery data, which customers could search using a street address, a ZIP code or a post office box. It would also provide for expanded special rates for local newspaper distribution.

Some Republicans on Tuesday objected to the measure, calling it fiscally shortsighted and unsuccessfully pushing for last-minute changes to the bill.

“This bill doesn’t reduce costs — it just shifts them from one unfunded government program to another unfunded government program,” said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.

But several lawmakers hailed the bipartisan approval of the bill as necessary support for an agency that provides a crucial lifeline to their states.

“There is increasing realization that the Postal Service is absolutely essential for our country — it is the only organization that delivers to every single address in America,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., one of the lawmakers who helped spearhead the measure’s consideration in the Senate, said before its passage. “It’s actually written into the U.S. Constitution as something that helps keep the country bound together.”

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