As the United States Postal Service weighs whether to take measures that could increase delivery time, close facilities and even cut the number of days mail is delivered, Sen. Sherrod Brown is backing a bill he said could expand the offerings at post offices.
Brown, D-Ohio, is one of six sponsors of the Postal Service Protection Act, which he said would address billions of dollars of overpayment into the independent government agency's pension and retirement programs and remove restrictions on providing non-postal services at postal facilities.
"Why couldn't they serve coffee at a post office and charge a little?" he said.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Clerk Diann Garrick tapes up a package for Marietta resident Brian Wilfong Wednesday at the Marietta Post Office.
That's just one example of potential new services and revenue streams, Brown said, with other possibilities including notary services, shipping wine and beer and contracting with state and local agencies to provide services like issuing driver's, hunting and fishing licenses.
Brown discussed the bill Wednesday in a teleconference, the day after the postal service agreed to delay the planned closing of 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices until at least May 15. The moves could cost 100,000 postal service jobs, saving an estimated $6.5 billion a year. The agency is expected to lose $14.1 billion in 2012.
The postal service funds its operations through the sale of postage, products and services. It does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses.
At a glance
What the Postal Service Protection Act would do:
Allow the postal service to recover over payments it made to its retirement programs and pension plans.
Establish new ways the postal service can generate revenue, by ending the prohibition on providing non-postal services.
Prevent the closure of rural post offices by giving the Postal Regulatory Commission binding authority to prevent closures based on the effect on the community and the effect on employees.
Protect six-day delivery.
Ensure strict standards for delivering first-class mail delivery on time, making it more difficult to close area mail-processing facilities.
Source: Office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
"Before the USPS hastily closes facilities, we should examine common-sense steps to strengthen the USPS by improving its fiscal solvency," Brown said in a news release after the teleconference. "This legislation will address the postal service's fiscal troubles while maintaining jobs and high-quality service in Ohio and throughout the nation."
The cuts would have closed 10 processing centers and 120 post offices in Ohio, including the Cutler post office in Washington County, the Ava post office in Noble County and the Cameron post office in Monroe County, as well as the Athens Customer Service Mail Processing Center.
Marietta resident Ray Ryan, 44, said he would welcome expanded services at post offices, especially if it would help prevent cuts to first-class mail delivery and the elimination of the chance for stamped letters to arrive at their destination a day after being sent.
"I mostly rely on the mail service for paying my bills and I'd hate for anything to be late because of the cutbacks," Ryan said.
If mail delivery did slow, Ryan said it would make him consider online bill-paying, something he's been reluctant to try because of security concerns.
Devola resident Bibiana Sheppard, 68, said she pays all of her bills online and doesn't think a delay in delivery times would impact her directly. Still, she said she hates to see services cut or the elimination of mail on Saturdays, as has been discussed.
Sheppard said she's wary, though, of adding a lot of new services at post offices.
"I think if they add services they have to add staff because one time I stood in line for an hour-and-a-half down here because one person was getting a passport," she said Wednesday at the Marietta Post Office on Front Street. "I felt guilty today (because) I bought a money order and I felt bad holding people up for that."
Marietta resident Brian Wilfong, 49, said he thinks people can deal with mail delays by making plans to send items a little earlier.
"As long as you plan ahead a little bit ... I don't think it's anything to get 'alarmed' alarmed about," he said.
Brown said delays in mail delivery could affect people who get prescriptions through the mail, as well as those paying bills and businesses who rely on the postal service.
Joan Zoller, owner of Trademark Solutions in Marietta, said she's been holding her breath since hearing about the potential slowdown and was glad to learn of the moratorium.
"We use (the postal service) daily," she said. "And a lot of times you can count on that next-day service for ingoing and out-going mail."
The company, which deals in screen imprinting, embroidered apparel and promotional items, conducts some business online but a number of its clients aren't set up to securely transmit payment information, Zoller said.
While Congress works on legislation to aid the postal service, the agency will continue to look at ways to reduce costs and increase revenue.
That includes examining the closure of post offices like Cutler's, although no action would be taken before May 15, said postal service spokesman David Van Allen.
The legislation Brown is sponsoring would grant the Postal Regulatory Commission binding authority to stop closures based on their impact on the community and employees. Currently, the commission reviews decisions but cannot halt a closure, even if it determines the decision is flawed.
In addition, Brown said the bill would protect revenue by fixing the postal service's pension system.
The agency is required to pre-fund 75 years' worth of retiree health benefits in 10 years, something that costs it between $5.4 billion and $5.8 billion.
The bill would eliminate that requirement, as well as allow the postal service to recover an estimated $50 billion in pension over payments that Brown's office said have forced the postal service to subsidize retirement accounts for the entire federal government.