By Steve Key
National Newspaper Association lobbyists Tonda Rush and Max Heath have been working on Capitol Hill for months to minimize the harm to newspapers from postal reform legislation.
Finally, it appears a bill may be moving that newspapers across the country can support.
A bipartisan group of Senate leaders put together the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2011 (S. 1789) to break a stalemate on postal reform legislation.
It covers financial relief, workforce revisions and service protections for mailers.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, R-Connecticut, is leading the effort. He is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Joining him are postal expert Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sens. Thomas Carper, D-Delaware, and Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts.
According to the NNA, the bill makes significant progress toward setting the Postal Service on course to avoid financial collapse in 2012.
Rush, chief executive officer for NNA, said the postal reform bill needs to be passed by the Senate in the next few weeks.
The session of Congress is expected to adjourn in about 30 days.
Rush and Heath, postal chairman for NNA, ask newspaper publishers to contact their U.S. senators and encourage them to support the Postal Service Act.
Rush said the bill is the only Senate legislation that guarantees six-day mail delivery for two years and may protect it beyond that.
“It also directs USPS to create an unprecedented option for newspapers to use the mailbox on Saturdays for delivery if the Postal Service abandons residential service,” Rush said.
After two years, the Postal Service would be required to address the negative impact of delivery loss for mail-sensitive groups such as community newspapers.
If a newspaper was impacted by the loss of Saturday delivery, the Postal Service would have to consider allowing newspapers to distribute through mailboxes.
The Government Accountability Office and Postal Regulatory Commission would both review a future request to cut delivery days.
The change may not occur unless the Postal Regulatory Commission determines it is necessary for the Postal Service to be profitable by 2015, Rush said.
A few other details of the proposed legislation:
• If delivery days are changed, there may not be more than two consecutive days without mail delivery.
• Before closing or consolidating mail processing plants, the Postal Service must provide more notice to the public, receive public input for 45 days, hold a community meeting, consider options to reduce the operation instead of closing and advise the public of the results.
Congress also must be notified. A plant may not close until 15 days after a published decision.
• It requires new standards for providing retail postal facilities, with attention to the needs of rural areas. These standards will affect closings of rural post offices.
• For newspaper periodicals mailers, the legislation would lessen the threat of steep postage increases to cover reported Postal Service costs.
It instead requires the Postal Regulatory Commission to examine whether excess capacity in processing, transportation or delivery plays a role in the “under-water” status of the mailing class.
The examination will take about two years. Following a determination that periodicals do not cover costs, postage increases of no higher than 2 percent above the cost of living price cap may be created for each year until the periodicals achieve 90 percent cost coverage.
• It provides the Postal Service with significant cash relief by returning about $7 billion in retirement trust fund overpayments.
The funds must be used first for buyouts of retirement-eligible employees and then may be used to pay down debt and other purposes.
Passage of the 21st Century Postal Service Act would bring some stability to the postal situation – a badly needed commodity.
Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for HSPA.