U.S. Senator Mark Pryor today said the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to help put the U.S. Postal Service back on the road to financial stability. Pryor strengthened the 21st Century Postal Service Act through amendments to protect Arkansas's rural post offices and cap the salaries of the USPS's top executives.
"The Postal Service can't overcome their financial problems overnight, but this bill sets a responsible path forward," Pryor said. "This legislation breathes new life into the Postal Service. I'm hopeful the House of Representatives will consider and pass this bill so we can keep post offices and mail operations in our communities operating."
Pryor, concerned about the 186 post offices in Arkansas slated for closure, believes the USPS has failed to consider a number of important factors, including community input, about each facility. His amendment, passed by voice vote, expresses the Senate's support for the Postal Service to extend its current moratorium on postal closures until after the legislation is enacted into law. This extension is expected to prevent the USPS from immediately closing post offices before fully considering the new criteria set out in the bill. This criterion requires that the USPS take into account factors such as the age and disability status of individuals in the area, transportation challenges in the areas served and access to the Internet. The current moratorium ends May 15, 2012.
"Post offices are a vital lifeline for many of Arkansas's rural communities, connecting them to commerce, news, and necessary goods," Pryor said. "Extending the deadline for post office closures will give the Postal Service time to re-examine their criteria and ensure every facility gets a fair shake."
Pryor also teamed up with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) on an amendment to cap the salaries of top Postal Service executives and eliminate bonuses. The Postmaster General makes nearly $400,000 per year in salary and benefits. The Tester-Pryor amendment, passed by voice vote, cuts the Postmaster General's base salary by at least one-third, as well as the pay and bonuses of other Postal Service executives.
"Postal Service executives are raking in huge salaries even as the Postal Service is struggling to stay afloat," Pryor said. "By capping their pay, my amendment will ensure the USPS puts the interests of rural communities over their top executives."
Pryor said the USPS has lost $25 billion over the past 5 years as more consumers turn to the Internet. He joined with other members of the Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee to craft legislation that keeps the USPS viable while also ensuring the agency makes transparent financial decisions. He believes this approach will help rural communities maintain better service than they would otherwise receive. Highlights of the 21st Century Postal Service Act include:
Accountability: A provision in the underlying bill, authored by Pryor, allows communities with post office stations and branches to appeal a determination for closure. Currently, they are unable to file an appeal.
Transparency: A provision in the underlying bill, championed by Pryor, requires the Postal Service to respond in writing to recommendations or advisory opinions made by its oversight agency, the Postal Regulatory Commission. Examples of past recommendations that went unanswered primarily involved more community input regarding the closure process.
Financial Relief: Provides immediate financial relief to the Postal Service by refunding certain overpayments into the federal treasury and rescheduling its payments for retiree health benefits.
Limitations on Closing Post Offices. Prior to closing a post office, the Postal Service must consider several options, such as reducing operating hours rather than closing a particular post office, and permitting a contractor or rural carrier to provide retail services in the community served by the post office.
Preservation of Overnight Delivery Standards. The bill requires that the Postal Service retain a modified overnight delivery standard for three years, ensuring that most communities across the country continue to receive overnight delivery of first class mail. A maximum delivery standard of three days would be maintained for first class mail sent anywhere in the continental United States.
Safeguards before Closing Mail Processing Facilities. Maintenance of a modified overnight delivery standard means that fewer processing facilities will need to be closed. Where closures or consolidations may be needed, the Postal Service should consider downsizing rather than closing the facility.
Limitations on Five-Day Delivery. The bill would prohibit the Postal Service from implementing any plan to eliminate Saturday delivery for at least two years. After two years, implementation could only move forward if the Postal Service has first attempted to increase revenue and cut costs through other means, and GAO and the Postal Regulatory Commission conclude that five-day service is necessary for the long-term solvency of the Postal Service. In addition, prior to eliminating Saturday delivery, the Postal Service must also identify communities who may be disproportionately affected by five-day delivery -- such as customers in rural areas or those reliant on mail order prescriptions -- and develop steps to address any negative impact.