A bipartisan bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service’s finances appears headed for passage in Congress, but postal workers in Maine say it won’t immediately resolve mail delivery delays.

Under a bill overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, the postal service would no longer have to prefund health care benefits for retired workers. The bill also has significant bipartisan support in the Senate.

Eliminating the prefunding requirement would put the post office on firmer financial footing and erase debt that makes it appear the service has lost money annually for the past 14 years when, operationally, it turns a profit. Without reform, the post office could lose $160 billion in the coming decade, officials have warned.

If the bill passes, it would reduce strain on the service, but likely not immediately stop mail delays and staffing shortages. Residents in Maine and across the country have complained about late mail delivery. Sometimes, mail has not arrived at all for a week or more, while packages typically arrive on time.

“As much as anything, it puts the post office back on the path of financial stability,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in an interview. “Having the post office on a better financial track will put us on track for better delivery time and staffing.”

The bill also would require delivery of first-class mail six days a week and includes measures to increase transparency, Pingree said. Her office has heard from a tremendous number of constituents angry they are not receiving mail on time, she added.


“I will be thrilled if overnight this forces them to speed up the mail, and perhaps it will,” Pingree said. “It does give us more transparency, more ability to have a real accounting for how fast the mail is getting delivered, and how many people are getting mail.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the House-passed bill to reform the postal service’s finances.

“Senator Collins believes that yesterday’s House passage is a needed step toward postal reform,” said spokesperson Christopher Knight.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King said the prefunding mandate is a “massive competitive disadvantage” that no other public service or private business faces.

“We’ve seen how this added burden has hindered their core mission of universal mail delivery, and the overwhelmingly bipartisan House vote makes it clear that the time has come for action to improve the USPS’s fiscal future without compromising service,” King said.

The bill is a good step for the post office overall, but it won’t immediately address critical staffing shortages at the local level, according to officials at labor unions representing postal workers.


“Nothing in the bill that I have seen so far affects day-to-day operations,” said Mark Seitz, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 92, which represents about 700 workers in southern Maine.

Since the 2006 prefunding mandate, the post office has cut back staff and negotiated a two-tiered hiring system with labor unions that makes new hires “non-career,” with reduced pay and benefits, and at some branches, no clear path to career status. That hurts hiring and worker retention efforts in a hot labor market.

Now, some postal routes are chronically understaffed, and mail carriers can work 60- or 80-hour weeks, leading to burnout and high turnover. Coronavirus infections and exposures among the workforce led to more absences and mail delays.

Between 20 and 30 city and rural routes in Maine were curtailed partly or entirely in the first two weeks of January because of staffing shortages, Postmaster Louis DeJoy told Sen. Collins in a Jan. 18 letter.

Seitz, from the mail carriers’ union, said the problem has only gotten worse. The problem isn’t money, he said, since the postal service can afford to pay huge amounts of overtime to carriers and is desperately trying to hire.

“(Financial reform) is good for us going forward, but as day-to-day operations? No.” Seitz said. “I’d like to say it did (help), but I don’t know how it could.”

Scott Adams, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 458, agreed. His union represents post office clerks, maintenance workers and others in southern Maine.

“That prefunding is what got us short-staffed,” Adams said. “Everyone thought we were losing money every year, so they just kept cutting back. I think, long-term, ending the prefunding will help in many ways.”

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