WASHINGTON—The National Newspaper Association this week took a big step forward in its decade-long efforts to preserve universal mail service as Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, introduced the Improving Postal Operations, Service & Transparency Act, iPOST. NNA said it believed the bill would set a positive tone in the 114th Congress to provide the U.S. Postal Service with cash flow flexibility while focusing much needed attention on rural mail service.
NNA President John Edgecombe Jr., publisher of The Nebraska Signal in Geneva, NE, said he believed Carper’s requirement for USPS to work with the Postal Regulatory Commission to measure on-time rural mail service would be welcomed in America’s small towns.
“Service to small towns has demonstrably declined since USPS slowed the mail down by lowering service standards and cutting about half of its mail processing plants out of its network. My concern about this problem has occupied a good portion of my year as NNA president as I have urged our members to keep pushing for change,” Edgecombe said. “We hear complaints from our members about newspaper delivery that have been long-standing and are now intensified. Even more alarming, we get reports about problems with First Class and Priority Mail. When the mail doesn’t work, small towns are isolated and handicapped in their economic development.”
The iPOST bill would require USPS to attach a geographic tag to each ZIP code, identifying it as rural, urban or suburban, and work with the PRC on regular service reports for on-time delivery. The bill also would impose a two-year moratorium on more processing plant closings while the PRC examines whether cuts from 2010 to 2013 took a bigger bite from service than necessary. For fiscal relief, USPS would see an easing of its requirement to prepay retiree health benefits, a push for some employees that take the USPS health plan over the already-paid Medicare benefits, and recalculation by the federal government of actuarial requirements.
For mailers’ pocketbooks, the bill would freeze postal rates through Jan. 1, 2018, while the PRC examines today’s cost-of-living-based price cap to see whether the cap is sustainable. A much-contested 4.3 percent emergency or “exigency” price increase instituted two years ago would remain in the rate base, despite the PRC’s order for USPS to lower rates in April, 2016.
NNA Postal Committee Chair Max Heath said his committee welcomed the Carper bill. The proposal will recast the congressional debate on what to do about USPS’ long-standing financial problems.
“All of us who work closely with USPS appreciate the efforts of Postmaster General Megan Brennan to address NNA’s concerns. I have no doubt that this Postmaster General understands that service cuts have harmed the postal franchise severely and we have appreciated her open door. We are eager for Congress to get moving with a reform bill that gives USPS some financial wiggle room. At the end of the day, this is the nation’s Postal Service and it is up to Congress to set the terms of its performance. NNA is ready to help Congress get the job done, and we thank Senator Carper for getting us off on the right foot,” Heath said.
Edgecombe said NNA’s Congressional Action Team would be rolled into service in the fall to push congressional delegations to complete postal reform.
The U.S. Postal Service should evaluate the impact of slower service to newspaper subscribers before proceeding with 2015 closings of mail processing plants, National Newspaper Association President John Edgecombe Jr., said this week. Edgecombe is the publisher of The Nebraska Signal in Geneva, NE.
NNA seconded the concern expressed by the USPS Office of the Inspector General that the Postal Service has not completed service impact evaluations on the planned closings of 82 more mail processing plants starting in January 2015. The evaluations should include public notice and comment. The OIG strongly recommended that USPS complete these evaluations and requested confirmation that they are being completed.
NNA has previously reminded the Postal Service that the impact of moving mail processing operations into urban areas creates mail delivery problems for its subscribers, who may judge the effectiveness of the mail by the on-time arrival of their newspapers.
“As I look at the list of plants on the closing list and see cities like Salina, Kansas; Grand Island, Nebraska; Eureka, California, and Elko, Nevada, I worry that small-town America is gradually losing reliable mail service,” Edgecombe said. “Affordable, dependable service links us to our subscribers. More importantly, it is the bedrock of local small-town economies. It is essential that USPS understand and grapple with these impacts before it makes a decision to close any mail sorting plant.”
NNA Postal Committee Chair Max Heath in Shelbyville, KY, said a particular problem is that USPS has no universal system for measuring newspaper on-time delivery. Even with strong impact studies, it may not always capture the full effect of slower newspaper delivery, he said.
“USPS rests its service studies upon electronic scanning equipment on its automated mail sorters. But many newspapers are not sorted on these machines. So our mail drops out of the visibility measurements that USPS depends upon to report its success in reaching delivery times. Certainly we are concerned whether a plant closing creates a slower standard. We are equally concerned that if newspapers are not delivered on time with today’s delivery standards, USPS has no systematic way of detecting it.”
Newspapers are gradually adopting the Full Service Intelligent Mail barcodes that could be scanned by the sorting equipment. But unless the machines are used to sort the newspaper mail, usable information will still elude the Postal Service, he said.
“We are working diligently with USPS to develop a better measurement system,” Heath said. “But adoption of a better system for us is months, if not years away. What is important now is for USPS and publishers to recognize that newspaper subscribers want their issues on time, and any changes in service standards or actual service that puts their trust in jeopardy is bad for newspapers and for the Postal Service.”
Read more: National Newspaper Association.
National Newspaper Association President Robert M. Williams Jr., publisher of the Blackshear (GA) Times, strongly objected this week to the U.S. Postal Service’s announcement that it would close or consolidate more than 80 mail processing facilities after January and lower service standards for Periodicals and First-Class Mail.
In a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, Williams said: “We deeply regret our long-time partnership with the Postal Service is about to be further stressed by another degradation of service. NNA does not understand how rising prices, slower service and further concentration of services into urban areas helps our nationwide mail service to survive Internet competition or any other threat.”
The Postal Service announced on June 30 that it is now targeting a broad list of mail processing plants for its second round of “network consolidation.” Though USPS is showing operating profits this year after several years of red ink, Donahoe cited a $40 billion debt on the USPS balance sheet as a reason. Most of the Postal Service debt is to the U.S. Treasury, which it owes for the accelerated prepayment of postal retiree health costs imposed by Congress in a 2006 postal law.
Many mailing organizations, labor unions and concerned postal users have lobbied Congress vigorously for the past eight years to relax the punitive requirements, which have been set up for no other federal agency. Williams emphasized again in his letter to Donahoe that NNA has set its Congressional Action Team in motion repeatedly to support legislative efforts to relieve financial pressure on USPS.
“We want postal reform legislation this year,” Williams said. “We have looked for several years now for legislation that balances the needs of USPS, of the postal workforce and of mailers, particularly those in rural areas hard hit by the previous round of postal plant closings. We recognize that the Postal Service is a powerful federal agency that influences our advertising marketplaces and therefore must be fairly regulated. But we object to Congress’s having tried repeatedly to use the postage-selling abilities of USPS as a cash cow. We are very hopeful that we will see legislation this year that strikes the right balance and that we can vigorously support it before these plant closings kick in. NNA firmly believes that mail service to rural and small-town America is critical to local economies. We will not stand by quietly when it is put at risk.”
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Magazines, newspapers and direct marketers are girding for the possibility that the U.S. Postal Service will pass an exigent rate increase on top of the annual postal rate that is capped by the consumer price index.
The increase, made possible by a 2006 law that gives the postal service the option to raise rates in case of extreme circumstances like a terrorist attack, could be as high as 10 percent across the board.
It couldn’t come at a worse time for the media and marketing industries that depend on mail service.
Read more: Magazines, Newspapers Brace for Exigent Postal Rate Hike | Adweek.