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Removing an Obstacle to Fair EAS Pay
By Chuck Mulidore
There was a flurry of activity around the United States Postal Service during the 2020 national election campaign season regarding the effects of COVID-19 on operations. Specifically, the question was whether the Postal Service could deliver election ballots in time to be properly counted in the 2020 national election.
Even more scrutiny has been placed on the Postal Service since the selection of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and his several, ill-advised directives that have contributed to delayed mail and reduced service across the country, as well as the agency’s recently published 10-year plan.
There has been much conversation about the impact of postal operations on the country as a whole, not just the delivery of ballots and First-Class Mail, but also medicines, packages and mail to our service members overseas and more. Certainly, COVID-19 and misguided operational decisions from L’Enfant Plaza have contributed to this conversation. We need to take a step back a few years when the agency’s current financial problems began and ascertain how—if those issues could have been corrected—the Postal Service and our country may not be in the financial predicament it’s in today.
Per Wikipedia, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) was enacted by the 109th United States Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Dec. 20, 2006. The bill was introduced in the House by Virginia Republican Tom Davis and co-sponsored by New York Republican John M. McHugh and California Democrat Henry Waxman and Illinois Democrat Danny K. Davis. As chair of the Senate Oversight Committee, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine shepherded the bill’s passage through the Senate.
The bill was approved during the lame-duck session of the 109th Congress and approved without objection via voice vote. The PAEA was the first major overhaul of the Postal Service since 1970. It reorganized the Postal Rate Commission, compelled the USPS to pay in advance for the health and retirement benefits of all its employees for at least 50 years and stipulated that the price of postage could not increase faster than the rate of inflation. It also mandated the USPS to deliver six days a week.
Per Davis, the Bush administration threatened to veto the legislation unless Congress added the provision regarding prefunding employee benefits in advance, with the objective of using that money to reduce the federal deficit. Consequently, between 2007 and 2016, the USPS lost $62.4 billion; the Postal Service OIG estimated that $54.8 billion of that was due to pre-funding retiree benefits.
By the end of 2019, the USPS had $160.9 billion in debt due to growth of the internet, the Great Recession and prepaying employee benefits as stipulated in the PAEA. Mail volume decreased from 97 billion to 68 billion pieces from 2006 to 2012. The employee benefit prepayment cost the USPS about $5.5 billion per year; the USPS began defaulting on this payment in 2012.
According to Bloomberg, prefunding the health benefits of retirees “is a requirement that no other entity, private or public, has to make.” In the July 2014 Roanoke Times, columnist Dan Casey wrote in an op-ed that the PAEA is “one of the most insane laws Congress ever enacted.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) said in 2019 that the measure was rushed through Congress without due consideration and referred to it as “one of the worst pieces of legislation Congress has passed in a generation.” Clearly, this legislation has contributed to the agency’s debt and 2020 crisis.
Now, there finally appears to be serious legislative relief on the horizon for the Postal Service in the form of H.R. 3076 and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 1720. While much work needs to be done to see these bills passed into legislation—and certainly there may need to be amendments to the bills to set up final passage in Congress—we now can be hopeful that this legislation, along with other proposed postal legislation, can finally begin to fix the finances of the Postal Service.
If this can pass, along with NAPS-sponsored H.R. 1623, which would help bring sanity to our pay consultation process with the USPS, EAS employees will see an obstacle removed in the form of the continual refrain of USPS leadership that their finances do not allow for fair compensation for EAS employees.
While we are glad Congress finally has recognized the importance of the Postal Service to the fabric of American democracy, NAPS members have been telling Congress that, since 2007, the PAEA was detrimental to the interests of the Postal Service and its employees. Each and every year, NAPS members have taken the message to Capitol Hill that the PAEA must be repealed and replaced.
Suddenly, a confluence of events wrapped in political overtones has awakened Congress. Now, many pieces of proposed legislation have been advanced to correct the Postal Service’s systemic problems largely created by this law. Thank you, Congress, for recognizing the urgent needs of the Postal Service.
However, I cannot help but wonder had NAPS’ legislative message been taken more seriously by Congress over the past decade and more, would the Postal Service and our nation be in the grip of this debate? I believe the answer is obvious, but we cannot be satisfied with an “I told you so.”
We now must press the advantage to finally begin correcting these long-standing problems and finally right-size this uniquely American institution. We must press forward, as we have many times, in the face of Postal Service leadership that stands in the way by issuing directives and decrees that threaten the existence of the organization we strive to save!
You see, we didn’t just become essential when a worldwide pandemic broke out; we always have been essential. So much so that the Founding Framers provided for a postal system in the United States Constitution.