Senate passage of Postal Service reform bill met with hope and skepticism |

Senate passage of Postal Service reform bill met with hope and skepticism

Ali Longwell
Vail Daily
The Dillon post office is pictured Friday, March 11. The Dillon location, along with other locations across Summit County, has had issues with staffing leading to decreased service levels.
Jenna deJong/Summit Daily News

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Postal Service Reform Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The act provides a $107 billion overhaul of the struggling federal agency, aiming to cut costs and bring more transparency.

“Senate passage of the Postal Service Reform Act will provide USPS with financial stability to support more reliable delivery and service, especially in Colorado’s mountain and rural communities,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement celebrating the bill’s passage.

The bill still needs the signature of President Joe Biden before becoming a law.

Problems with the Postal Service, though long-existing, were exacerbated by COVID-19, as the pandemic put pressure on local resources including staffing amid an influx of e-commerce and online sales. Over the past decade, the Postal Service has seen an increase of 10 million delivery points without added support to match the increased demand.

For the past 15 years, Postal Service expenses have outpaced the agency’s revenue. In 2021, the total operating expenses for the agency were just under $82 billion, while its operating revenue was just over $77 billion — with a net loss totaling 4.93 billion. This net loss was partially down from 2020, when the agency experienced a $9 billion net loss.

Sen. John Hickenlooper, in a video celebrating the bill’s passage, said it had “our stamp of approval.”

“The U.S. Postal Service is a lifeline to Coloradans, rural and urban alike,” Hickenlooper said in his statement. “Modernizing USPS will ensure mail is on time for generations to come.”

This modernization, according to a news release from Hickenlooper’s office, is anticipated to come through various mechanisms approved in the bill. This includes:

  • Requiring the Postal Service to maintain its standard six-day a week delivery
  • Requiring the agency to create an online dashboard to track national delivery time
  • Allowing the agency to contract with state, local and tribal leaders and governments to offer non-mail services such as hunting and fishing licenses
  • Requiring future agency retirees to enroll in Medicare, which is expected to save around $22.7 billion over the next decade
  • Eliminating a requirement — put in place by a 2006 bill — to pre-fund health benefits for its employees, which is expected to save the agency around $27 billion in the next decade

The bill will also give the agency financial reprieve as it eliminates $57 billion in past-due postal liabilities and $50 billion in payments for the next decade.

Local leaders raise concerns

Summit County leaders have been reaching out to Postal Service officials with increasing urgency over the past year, as issues worsened during and post-COVID, including staffing shortages that have led to limited service hours, delivery delays, long waits, unmaintained buildings and more

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said last week that when community leaders ask post office representatives about these issues, they aren’t given a clear answer about the root of the problem.

“The U.S. Postal Service is not particularly forthcoming in the rationale or the underlying causes of the challenges we’re seeing,” Pogue said. “I would assume they are continuing to not be able to hire adequate staff so they are relying on a strategy of finding postal workers from other communities. As other communities also struggle with staffing problems, that becomes less of an option they can rely on.”

As community leaders continue to advocate on Summit County’s behalf, residents’ frustration is growing by the day.

When asked why getting mail to the county is so difficult, Postal Service spokesperson James Boxrud did not provide any details and instead pointed to the county’s lack of affordable housing for the organization’s staffing issues.

“USPS is ready to serve, but we have difficulty retaining employees due to the lack of affordable housing options,” he wrote in an email last week. “We implore local leadership to help us find solutions.”

In a follow-up email, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said he was aware of this concern and that his team has also tried to provide solutions.

“We have offered to continue to explore various housing opportunities, and we have asked them to contact us when they have a potential hire with a housing challenge to see if any of our jurisdictions might have a vacancy within our housing stock or if we can provide any other housing referral info,” Vargo wrote in an email last week. “They haven’t reached out to me to explore options in greater detail following the meetings I have participated in with USPS folks.”

While the changes from the bill may take some time, mountain town leaders have been engaged with regional post office leadership and U.S. legislators, including Bennet and Hickenlooper, to bring local change. These efforts are not anticipated to stop with the reform bill’s passage.

Following a regional meeting in February, Boxrud said the agency was “committed to working with each town to address their individual needs to every extent possible.”

Boxrud said follow-up sessions would be planned in the “near future to improve open, positive and solution-oriented communications.”

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