WASHINGTON (AP) - Millions of Americans would no longer get mail delivered to their door but would have to go to communal or curbside boxes instead under a proposal advancing through Congress.
The Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on an 18-13 party-line vote, approved a bill Wednesday to direct the U.S. Postal Service to convert 15 million addresses over the next decade to the less costly, but also less convenient delivery method.
Democrats objected to the plan, and efforts in recent years to win its adoption have failed.
"I think it's a lousy idea," Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said. Other lawmakers said it wouldn't work in urban areas where there's no place on city streets to put banks of "cluster boxes" with separate compartments for each address. People with disabilities who have difficulty leaving their homes could get waivers, and people who still want delivery to their door could pay extra for it - something Lynch derided as "a delivery tax."
The measure falls far short of a comprehensive overhaul most officials agree is needed to solve the postal service's financial problems. The committee's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., acknowledged that at the outset but said it "provides an interim opportunity to achieve some significant cost savings."
Converting to communal or curbside delivery would save $2 billion annually, Issa said, quoting from estimates that door delivery costs $380 annually per address compared with $240 for curbside and $170 for centralized methods. He said less than 1 percent of all addresses nationwide would undergo a delivery change annually and that communal boxes offer a safe, locked location for packages, doing away with the need for carriers to leave packages on porches and subject to theft and bad weather.
According to the postal unions, the biggest fraud being perpetrated on the American public is the idea that the U.S. Postal Service is going broke. In fact, the Postal Service is making a $1 billion operating profit in the first six months of its fiscal year. The National Association of Letter Carriers pointed out that the Postal Service has been turning an operating profit since October of 2012.
(People's World hosted a Google Hangout with National Association of Letter Carriers activist John Dick, who recently won that union's Humanitarian Award, and American Postal Workers Union local President Roscoe Woods. We urge you to watch and share with your friends, co-workers and family. Story continues after video.)
Associate Press reports that postal officials have asked repeatedly for comprehensive legislation giving them more control over personnel and benefit costs and more flexibility in pricing and products. Though various legislative proposals have been advanced, Congress has not been able to agree on a bill with broad changes.
"Lawmakers should fix what they broke, not break what's working," National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando said, referring to a 2006 law that requires the Postal Service to prefund its retiree health benefits. Meeting that requirement accounts for the bulk of the postal service's red ink. He said the Oversight Committee's bill is "irresponsible ... bad for the American public, bad for businesses, bad for the economy and bad for the U.S. Postal Service."
Photo: Letter carrier moving boxes of mail into his truck to begin delivery at a post office in Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP