The Radical Idea That Undergirds Our Postal System

After reform, people came to see a reliable postal system as a key aspect of modern living. Letter writers were all equal: If you could afford a stamp, your piece of mail was as valuable as anyone else’s. Now, without such a national system, rural communities will likely lose postal services, just as they lag behind in acquiring broadband access. The image of postal workers across the nation deterred by “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night”—nor global pandemic—encapsulates the assumption that everyone must have equal access to the mail.

In fact, as we defend the USPS in the face of Covid-19 and Trump’s opposition, we have the opportunity not only to maintain the status quo but also to envision a new set of postal reforms that would extend this principle and secure the agency’s finances into the future. Most obviously, Congress must end the requirement, passed by a lame-duck Republican Congress in 2006, that the USPS prefund its retirees’ pensions through the year 2056, a stipulation imposed on no other federal agency or private business. The demand purposefully undermined the service so that Republicans could later claim the USPS was insolvent—exactly the situation in which it now finds itself. Removing this burden would avoid moves such as ending most Saturday delivery, as the agency threatened to do in 2013.

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