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It’s Time for Congress to Act
By Bob Levi
NAPS Director of Legislative & Political Affairs
Last month, I visited an optometrist for my annual eye exam. The vision assessment concluded that the prescription on my glasses needed to be tweaked a bit. So, I purchased new glasses.
As I am sure most spectacle wearers know, the essential diagnostic exam does not take very long, but the consequential decision over new eyeglass frames takes way too long. Rimless or full rims, acetate or metal, rectangle or round. The lenses are corrective, yet the frames are cosmetic. Where are the priorities?
Earlier this year, Congress declared postal legislation as a priority. The broad postal community and postal-wise policymakers rendered a valid diagnosis for the current woes confronting the Postal Service and proposed a preliminary repair to America’s most-trusted federal agency. The House Oversight and Reform Committee did its job by approving the first steps to postal viability.
Those initial steps are condensed in two bills approved by that committee in mid-May: H.R. 3076 and H.R. 3077. It’s now November. Where’s the urgency? The bills still are pending before the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees. The lenses have been selected by the postal experts on the Oversight and Reform Committee, but the framing is languishing before the two other committees.
Unless proven otherwise, it would appear there is a lack of sincere political commitment to the task at hand. Yes, other issues have been elevated over the past five months.
Regardless, delivery performance has suffered, the challenges of the pandemic remain and retiree health prefunding remains. Therefore, the broad postal community needs to hold our legislators accountable for the lack of progress and demand action.
On Oct. 13, NAPS Executive Vice President Chuck Mulidore and I conducted a well-attended legislative Zoom meeting with NAPS legislative chairs and other legislative activists to scope out a fourth-quarter legislative advocacy strategy for 2021. This battle plan comes in the midst of a highly anticipated decision by President Biden over whether he will renominate Ron Bloom and John Barger to the Postal Board of Governors.
Critics of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are pushing Biden to nominate an alternative to Bloom, whose seat becomes vacant on Dec. 8 until the Senate confirms a presidential nomination. Barger can retain his seat though next year, unless the president nominates and the Senate confirms an alternative governor before Dec. 8.
Members of the Board of Governors serve a six-year term; no more than five members can be of the same political party. With the three newly confirmed governors—Ron Stroman, Amber McReynolds and Anton Hajjar—the Democrats hold a one-seat majority. There is palpable concern that the delay in considering bipartisan postal legislation (i.e., H.R. 3076) could ensnare potential passage of the bill in a possible Senate confirmation fight over a Postal Board of Governors nominee, whomever that nominee may be.
Just in case you might think the president does not have postal matters on his mind, in October, Biden renominated Michael Kubayanda to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) for a term expiring on Dec. 8—just as Ron Bloom. It should be expected that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Kubayanda this month. As this issue went to press, there’s no word on the Board of Governors.
Also in October, 19 states and the District of Columbia filed a formal complaint with the PRC against the Postal Service regarding the implementation of the USPS’ 10-year plan. The attorneys general of the 20 jurisdictions argue the agency should have submitted the entire 10-year plan to the PRC for an advisory opinion, rather than only two components of the plan: the service standard changes for First-Class Mail and First-Class parcels. The commission must begin proceedings on the complaint or dismiss it by Jan. 10, 2022.
A long-cherished aspiration of a number of members of Congress is making basic banking services available at local post offices. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) have proposed authorizing financial services in postal facilities. A number of years ago, the Office of the Postal Inspector General projected that providing such services could raise about $9 billion in additional revenue.
Indeed, revenue of this magnitude would help sustain the Postal Service. Nevertheless, the agency has not been supportive of the initiative. The Postal Service, however, recently disclosed that it has launched a postal pilot program to provide limited check-cashing at four postal locations: Bronx, NY; Baltimore, MD; Falls Church, VA; and Washington, DC.
Commercial and community bank interests are leaning on Congress to nip the program in the bud. I would not be shocked if these interests try to bury an anti-postal banking provision in an appropriations bill or add it to H.R. 3076.
There are two nonpostal issues I would like to address. FEHBP open season runs from Nov. 8 through Dec. 13. On average, health insurance premiums have increased about 3.8%. Although the increase is less than being experienced in the private sector, it is important for NAPS members to use the open season to shop around to find the best plan to meet their health care needs.
On a related note, federal retirement COLAs will be 5.9% for Civil Service Retirement System annuitants and 4.9% for Federal Employee Retirement System annuitants. It is important to note that, through the efforts of NAPS legislative activities, recurrent attempts to slash health and retirement benefits were not proposed this year.