A state lawmaker who is running for Congress believes post office closures could be prevented if the agency wasn’t required to pay for 75 years worth of employee retirement benefits in just 10 years. And he said he would introduce legislation to do away with the mandate, if he gets elected.
At a press conference outside a post office in Kew Gardens Hills on Friday, Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said the USPS would save $5.5 billion this year alone by eliminating that requirement.
But the idea is not a new one. It is something that postal workers and union officials have been pushing for a long time. Lancman also wants the excess funding in the retiree health benefit account to be returned to the postal budget — about $11 billion. It is a plan that the USPS supports, Connie Chirichello, a spokeswoman for the agency, said Friday.
“We welcome any ideas or suggestions, whether it be from community members or politicians,” Chirichello said. “We are open to discussion, and we welcome discussion. Suggestions will be directed to the proper postal officials.”
Lancman, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the 6th Congressional District primary, also supports giving the Postal Regulatory Commission the power to overturn scheduled post office and processing center closure decisions it deems unnecessary. Presently, the PRC functions in an advisory capacity.
Ann Fisher, a spokeswoman for the PRC, said the group does not have a position on the issue and “will do whatever is asked of us,” including preventing facility closures if Congress gives it that authority.
The Senate passed legislation 62-37 on April 25 allowing the closure of 125 processing centers and the House is pondering whether to eliminate Saturday mail service, which would put 80,000 jobs at risk, Lancman said.
The lawmaker supports neither postal reform bill, because he believes they ignore the fundamental problem of prefunding benefits. The only aspect he does support is the Franken amendment to the Senate bill, which would give localities more say regarding postal facility closures. Lancman plans to introduce his own postal reform bill if he gets elected to Congress.
The prefunding requirement has been in existence since 2007, costing the USPS at least $50 billion, according to Lancman, adding to the agency’s debt of $20 billion. Citing a financial report by the USPS, Lancman said $3.1 billion of the $3.3 billion lost in the first quarter of 2012 was attributed to payments of that type.
“The dirty little secret of this crisis is that the Postal Service is actually making a profit through delivering mail, which is what its function is,” Lancman said. “So, the primary answer to solving the Postal Service’s financial crisis is to remove this unique, unusual and inexplicable burden and let it fund its health benefit system like every other federal agency and private corporation does, on a pay as you go basis.”
Citing declining mail volume and mounting debt, the USPS is on track to close more than 3,700 post offices and 252 mail-processing centers across the country including the one in Whitestone, which would result in 1,140 jobs leaving Queens.