Congress ends crisis of its own making; passes bill shoring up U.S. Postal Service

Pennsylvania’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, split on the bill

By: - March 9, 2022 1:47 pm

(Getty Images/Maine Beacon).

By Lauren McCauley

The U.S. Postal Service got a jolt of support on Tuesday when the Senate ended burdensome requirements rooted in a 2005 bill introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that have long hampered the federal agency.

In a rare bipartisan action, the Senate voted 79-19 to pass the Postal Service Reform Act, which drops a previous mandate that forced the USPS to cover its health care costs years in advance. The bill also requires retired employees to enroll in Medicare when eligible.

The House Oversight Committee estimates those two provisions will save the embattled agency nearly $50 billion over the next decade.

The bill cleared the U.S. House last month by a vote of 342-92 and is now headed to President Joe Biden to sign into law. Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, split on the bill. Casey voted in favor, while Toomey voted against the legislation, according to an official Senate roll call.

Lawmakers hope the reforms will help restore the agency, which has long been targeted by conservatives for privatization.

“This bill, which has been 15 years in the making, will finally help the Postal Service overcome burdensome requirements that threaten their ability to provide reliable service to the American people,” Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement after the vote.

Collins’ Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which became law in 2006, required the post office to pay for retirement healthcare benefits for workers 75 years into the future.

Economists and postal workers said that action manufactured an economic crisis at the USPS by forcing a more burdensome pre-funding mandate than any other federal agency or private corporation, and paved the way for significant cuts under the Trump administration.

John Curtis, a retired letter carrier from Surry who serves as the director of education for the Maine State Association of Letter Carriers, told Beacon in August 2020 that Collins’ bill “helped set the stage for the current attacks on the postal service.”

As of 2020, the postal service had racked up $160.9 billion in debt. Of that, $119.3 billion was the result of pre-funding retiree benefits.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, has said the agency’s “dire financial condition” required significant cuts resulting in limited post office hours and lengthened delivery times.

The added burden of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that a lot of locations have been woefully understaffed. In Maine, that has resulted in significant slowdowns.

The USPS told WGME in January that, not including COVID-19 related absences, the agency had more than 90 open positions in Maine that it was actively trying to fill. The Bangor Daily News reported last month those shortages meant as many as 20-30 postal routes were going without mail each day.

Postal workers have also said that under DeJoy the federal agency has prioritized the delivery of Amazon packages over First Class mail. That allegation has been reported in Maine as well. Both Collins and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree have called for investigations into USPS practices.

Lauren McCauley is editor of the Maine Beacon, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.