The financial outlook of the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund (RHB Fund) is poor.
At the end of fiscal year 2017, the fund’s assets declined to $49.8 billion and unfunded liabilities rose to $62.2 billion. Based on Office of Personnel Management (OPM) projections requested by GAO, the fund is on track to be depleted in fiscal year 2030 if the United States Postal Service (USPS) continues to make no payments into the fund.
Annual payments of $1 billion or $2 billion into the fund would extend the projected depletion date by 2 to 5 years (see figure). USPS has said that its required payments to the fund are unaffordable relative to its current financial situation and outlook.
For the past 11 years USPS has incurred large operating losses that it expects will continue. Additionally, USPS has stated that its opportunities for revenue generation and cost-cutting are limited. USPS reported that it did not make required fund payments in 2017 in order to preserve liquidity and cover operational costs.
If the fund becomes depleted, USPS would be required by law to make the payments necessary to cover its share of health benefits premiums for current postal retirees.
Current law does not address what would happen if the fund becomes depleted and USPS does not make payments to cover those premiums. Depletion of the fund could affect postal retirees as well as USPS, customers, and other stakeholders, including the federal government. About 500,000 postal retirees receive health benefits and OPM expects that number to remain about the same through 2035.
What GAO Recommends
Congress should consider passing legislation to put postal retiree health benefits on a more sustainable financial footing. USPS agreed that congressional action is needed and offered views on some policy approaches discussed in this report.