Delivering more than the mail

Reporter Sara Jordan-Heintz’s excellent story on a Marshalltown letter carrier’s safety achievements is getting well-deserved national attention.

Given the importance of the U.S. Postal Service to residents and businesses in the large and diverse state of Iowa, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some additional — if not widely known — information.

The Postal Service delivers to 155 million homes and businesses six and increasingly seven days a week. It is based in the Constitution and serves as the center of civic life in thousands of small towns and rural communities — including many in The Hawkeye State — while helping unite this vast nation. Just as the Founders intended.

It’s consistently rated the public’s most-trusted federal agency, and is the country’s largest employer of military veterans.

USPS also is the centerpiece of the $1.3 trillion national mailing industry that employs 7 million Americans in the private sector, including 92,980 Iowans.

And the Postal Service provides Americans and their businesses with the industrial world’s most affordable delivery network — and does so without a dime of taxpayer money. By law, USPS earns its revenue, through the sale of stamps and other products and services.

So the Postal Service is a driving engine of our national economy, as much today as ever. And, it’s more than that.

USPS and letter carriers play a key role in improving the quality of life in communities everywhere. This month, as they do the second Saturday of every May, letter carriers will conduct the nation’s largest single-day food drive to help replenish food banks, pantries and shelters.

With the generosity of Iowans and others, letter carriers last year collected a record 80 million pounds of food. We hope the 25th annual food drive, set for Saturday, May 13, will be just as successful.

Every day as they deliver mail on their routes, letter carriers help save the elderly or other residents who have fallen or experienced medical problems, put out fires, locate missing children or help stop crimes in progress. Among the six National Heroes recognized in 2016 was a Mason City letter carrier, Bradley Gentz, who noticed a boy sitting in a wheelchair on his mail route and transformed the young man’s life by participating with him in marathons around the country.

No surprise, then, that USPS enjoys strong support both in rural and urban areas and across the political spectrum. Quality postal service has not been — and should not be — a partisan issue.

Despite what you may have heard, the Postal Service generally operates in the black — $3.7 billion since 2013. Operating profit for Fiscal Year 2017’s first quarter alone was $522 million.

As the economy improves from the worst recession in 80 years, letter revenue is stabilizing. And as the Internet drives online shopping in Marshall County and beyond, package revenue is rising sharply — up 16 percent in 2016. As a result, revenue earned from delivering the mail more than pays all normal costs of delivering the mail.

There is red ink but it stems largely from congressional politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund retiree health benefits decades into the future. No other government agency or private company has to do this. That $5.8 billion annual charge not only is the “red ink” — it disguises the actual profits USPS is making.

This political mandate has created an artificial financial crisis at USPS that has led to the closing of postal processing facilities and the reduction of hours in some post offices, the slowing of mail and the resulting frustration among businesses and residents discussed in your article.

The Postal Service, postal unions, key lawmakers and industry groups have coalesced around core legislative proposals that would address pre-funding while preserving and strengthening the invaluable postal networks.

If Iowa’s elected representatives in Washington lend their support to such reform legislation, USPS can provide Americans and their businesses with the quality service they rely on. Folks in Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Grinnell and throughout your beautiful state deserve that — and it’s what letter carriers are committed to delivering.

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Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.