Is the United States Postal Service under attack?
October 8, 2013 6:44 AM   Subscribe

I read somewhere that the United States Postal Service does not receive any federal or state funds from taxes, that they do all of their own accounting.

And that politicians in Washington invented a law a few years ago, forcing them to be sure they would be able to pay all postal-worker pensions for up to 75 years forward into the future, putting a severe financial strain on the already overwhelmed Post Office, in an attempt to weaken it, so the politicians could then move in and "privatize" it, in order to get access to all the profits that they generate.

Sounded like a very, very interesting conspiracy theory. Is there any truth to it?
posted by shipbreaker to Law & Government (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah, it's pretty much true.
posted by ghharr at 6:51 AM on October 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


The USPS is self-funding (which is the main reason why it's still operating), but its business practices are largely controlled by Congress, which is why price increases or ending Saturday delivery must be approved. They do have what they see as onerous requirements to "fund the present value of future health care benefit payments to retirees within a ten-year time span – a requirement to which no other government organization is subject. " (source).

I have no idea what you read is talking about with respect to privatizing the post office to access profits.
posted by deadweightloss at 6:52 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia
The USPS has not directly received taxpayer-dollars since the early 1980s with the minor exception of subsidies for costs associated with the disabled and overseas voters.[citation needed] Since the 2006 all-time peak mail volume,[6] after which Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act",[7] (which mandated $5.5 billion per year to be paid into an account to pre-fund retiree health-care, 75 years into the future, a requirement unique among organizations and businesses in the U.S.[8]), revenue dropped sharply due to recession-influenced[9] declining mail volume,[10] prompting the postal service to look to other sources of revenue while cutting costs to reduce its budget deficit.[11]
posted by goethean at 6:55 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes. Happened in 2006.

Now the Republicans will deny all day that there goal is to make the postal service insolvent. They argue they just want to make sure that the USPS current AND future employees are taken care of. It's so much hokum.

It's a constitutional mandate that there be mail delivery. It doesn't HAVE to be the USPS, we can use our taxpayer dollars to pay for profit entities to deliver the mail. But then mailing a letter to some of the more obscure places will not necessarily cost 46 cents. When UPS, for example has to deliver something that wouldn't be cost effective they use, the USPS which doesn't have a profit motive and so can keep delivery equitable across the board.

FedEx will have no such obligations.
posted by Max Power at 6:57 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


This Esquire piece, "Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?" gives an excellent overview.
posted by kathryn at 7:02 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a constitutional mandate that there be mail delivery.

That is not what the Constitution says. Congress has the power to "establish Post Offices and post Roads", but it is not required to do so any more than it is required to establish inferior courts or borrow money.

As others have already said, the postal service is self-funding. That is what stamps are for. The "privatization" talk is beyond me, although it is worth noting that the postal service is a monopoly. You would not be allowed to set up Shipyard's Post Office and deliver first-class mail. In a famous case from the 1970s, the Postal Service threatened to sue and fine a Boy Scout troop that attempted to raise money by delivering Christmas cards.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:05 AM on October 8, 2013


I have no idea what you read is talking about with respect to privatizing the post office to access profits.

The conspiracy theorists' argument is that the current retiree funding requirements creates a very large pile of money that could then be raided by a private-sector owner not bound to those requirements. So it's not the profits that are considered the target, but the pension funds.

Among conspiracy theories, it is hardly the most tinfoil-hatted.
posted by holgate at 7:25 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to think the idea is to shut down the Post Office because "government BAD!" rather than to raid the pensions or to gain profit from privitization. The Republicans have long had the goal of reducing the size of government by any means necessary.

In other words, it's just ideology, not conspiracy. That doesn't make it *good*, but it's different.
posted by tau_ceti at 7:30 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mod note: No discussion please, of the politics involved here or otherwise. Please focus your comments on answering the question. Thank you.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 7:47 AM on October 8, 2013


See for example the uk version of this

The difference being that they're one step ahead ( and pretty unpopular, not that it will make any difference)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:48 AM on October 8, 2013


It is true. Our mailman has told me about it several times & is happily retiring next spring.
posted by yoga at 7:49 AM on October 8, 2013


the postal service is a monopoly. You would not be allowed to set up Shipyard's Post Office and deliver first-class mail. In a famous case from the 1970s, the Postal Service threatened to sue and fine a Boy Scout troop that attempted to raise money by delivering Christmas cards.

The USPS monopoly is due to the Private Express Statutes. The Wikipedia article on the PES is pretty interesting:
The United States Congress originally passed the PES in 1792, under powers granted it in the United States Constitution to "establish Post Offices and Post Roads". The PES created a governmental monopoly on the carriage and delivery of letter mail, and ensured that this monopoly can be enforced. Today the USPS is empowered to suspend the PES, if it believes such a private postal service would be in the interests of the general public.
There are lots of exceptions to the PES. Read the Wikipedia article for some of them and the USPS regulations for the rest.
posted by flug at 8:43 AM on October 8, 2013


Best answer: Is the United States Postal Service under attack?

Yes, because it is an organization which has almost 300,000 union workers with good pay and good pensions that vote reliably Democratic in response to Republicans who want to take away all of that.
posted by JackFlash at 10:56 AM on October 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


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