General Ramblings: Can’t Stamp It Out

May 1, 2011       Paul Clolery      

Forget tweeting on Twitter. Forget sending email or a message on Facebook. Sending communication in this country has been relatively simple for as long as we’ve been a nation. You write something, put it in an envelope, address it, affix a stamp and send it off. It costs 44 cents to send a greeting, or bill, by First Class mail before volume discounts.

To send an email you need a mobile phone contract or Internet access. That runs in the neighborhood of $59 a month to start. Unless you are a teenager, most normal people are not going to send 125 texts per month, which is what that many pieces of mail would cost if delivered by the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Just FYI, according to Nielsen, the average mobile user sends 357 texts per month, jacked up by the 1,742 messages per-month by kids 13 to 17. In the age group 45-54 the number drops to 128, down to just 38 in the 55 to 64 age group and just 14 in the 65 and older group. The number is growing but the largest segment of the population is Baby Boomers and older who clearly still use stamps.

In the nonprofit world, less than 10 percent of giving is done online, although the percentage increases every year. The letter dropped in the mailbox remains the dominant way to raise money. And with the threatened five-day delivery (instead of six) now apparently off the table for at least several years, direct mail fundraising can go on uninhibited.

The long lines at the post office and workers there who often appear not to know all 26 letters of the alphabet plague the system, but it is still the best in the world. So, it is just a little strange that people seem to think that we as a nation can do without a healthy and vibrant postal system.The attempt to force the USPS into private hands or bankruptcy started in 2006 when Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed legislation that forced the USPS to pre-fund nearly 80 percent of its future retiree health care obligations by 2016. That was $5.5 billion added immediately to USPS’s costs. No other agency is required to pre-fund such obligations, much less on such an accelerated schedule.

According to the USPS, had it not been for those payments it would have generated a $611-million profit during the past four years. And, that’s despite high-volume mailers sending fewer pieces because of the recession and the ever-expanding Internet. Instead, the post office had a deficit of $8.505 billion for Fiscal Year 2010, and it anticipates a deficit of $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2011.

There is something very wrong with this picture.

According to USA Today back in March, some $4.8 billion in federal earmarks went untouched by Congress, despite all the chatter on blocking them. If you cut that funding, you’re most of the way to lifting the financial burden off a real, vital, homeland security service, instead of spending $693,000 on beef improvement research, for which the for-profit beneficiaries of the research should be paying.

The million or so charities that raise money via the mail need to demand that the federal government give the money to the USPS or lift the sanction. So, a couple senators won’t get their names on rest stops in their home states. Even though motorists won’t be able to stop and leave behind what they think of elected officials, the mail will still get through — until the 13-year-olds rule the world. NPT

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