WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress on Tuesday passed legislation that would bolster the U.S. Postal Service and provide six-day-a-week mail delivery, sending the bill to President Joe Biden to sign into law.
The long-fought postal overhaul has been going on for years and comes with widespread complaints about postal service slowdowns. Many Americans have become dependent on the Postal Service during the COVID-19 crisis, but officials have repeatedly warned that without congressional action, it will run out of money by 2024.
“The Post Office usually delivers for us, but today we’re going to deliver for them,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.
Congress mustered rare bipartisan support for the postal service package, dropping some of the more controversial proposals to settle key ways to save the service and secure its future operations. Last month, the House approved the bill, 342-92, with all Democrats and most Republicans voting in favor. On Tuesday, the Senate sent him to Biden’s office on a 79-19 vote.
Republican Senator Jerry Moran said the Postal Service was in a “death spiral” that is particularly difficult for rural Americans, including in his state of Kansas, as post offices have closed and services have been cut . “Smart reforms were needed,” he said.
The Postal Service Reform Act would remove unusual budget requirements that have contributed to the Postal Service’s red ink and establish in law the requirement that mail be delivered six days a week, except on federal holidays, natural disasters and a few other situations.
Postage sales and other services were supposed to sustain the Postal Service, but it suffered 14 consecutive years of losses. Rising workers’ compensation and benefits costs, along with steadily declining mail volumes, have contributed to red ink, even as the Postal Service delivers to 1 million additional locations each year.
The bill would end the Postal Service’s obligation to pre-fund workers’ health care benefits for the next 75 years, an obligation that private companies and federal agencies do not face.
Instead, the Postal Service would require future retirees to enroll in Medicare and pay the actual health care costs of current retirees who are not covered by the federal health insurance program for the elderly.
Gone are the ideas of reducing mail delivery, which has become politically toxic. Also set aside, for now, are other proposals that have been floated over the years to change postal operations, including those to privatize certain services.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led the legislation and said that since the founding of the nation, the Postal Service has become “a vital part of the fabric of our nation”.
Peters said the legislation would ensure the Postal Service can continue its “nearly 250-year tradition of providing service to the American people.”
Beyond cards and letters, people rely on the Post Office to deliver government checks, prescription drugs, and many goods purchased online but ultimately delivered to doorsteps and mailboxes by the Postal Service.
“We need to save our Postal Service,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, another architect of the bill. Portman said the bill is not a bailout and no new funding is going to the agency.
Criticism of the Postal Service peaked in 2020, ahead of the presidential election, as cuts delayed service at a time when millions of Americans relied on mail-in ballots in the first year of the crisis. COVID-19.
At the time, President Donald Trump admitted he was trying to starve the Postal Service of money to make it harder to process an expected surge in mail-in ballots, which he said could cost him the election.
Dominated by Trump appointees, the agency’s board of governors had chosen Louis DeJoy, a major GOP donor, as the new postmaster general. He offered a 10-year plan to stabilize the department’s finances with measures such as further mail slowdowns, reduced hours at some offices and possibly higher rates.
To measure the Postal Service’s progress in improving its service, the bill would also require it to set up an online “dashboard” that would be searchable by zip code to show how long it takes to deliver. letters and packages.
The legislation approved by Congress is backed by Biden, the Postal Service, postal workers’ unions and others.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, called the passing of the legislation “a watershed moment in the fight to protect and strengthen the people’s public postal service, a national treasure.”
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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