You recently ran two letters regarding the U.S. Postal Service and letter carriers; one lamented that a program in Sweden under which elderly residents sign up to be checked on daily by letter carriers is something U.S. postal employees would never do.
In fact, not only would they, they have for many years. Through the Carrier Alert Program, elderly or home-bound residents can request that letter carriers making the daily rounds check on their well-being and alert authorities if necessary.
More broadly, on an informal basis letter carriers routinely help protect people and communities they serve — saving elderly residents who’ve fallen or taken ill, removing people from burning cars after accidents, finding missing children or even stopping crimes in progress.
For example, among the National Association of Letter Carriers’ 2014 Heroes of the Year were two letter carriers from Peoria who rescued a boy who’d been abducted at knife point, brought him to safety in their post office and then trailed the suspect. He had prior convictions for crimes against children and was sentenced to life in prison.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Letter carriers do these things because they’re dedicated to the people they serve year after year. They know the neighborhoods and can tell when something’s wrong. And because they’re in every community six and increasingly seven days a week, they’re often first on the scene. It also doesn’t hurt that one-quarter of letter carriers are military veterans — but whether they’re wearing their first or their second uniform, serving others is in their DNA.
In May, letter carriers again conducted the nation’s largest single-day food drive, the 23rd annual drive. Aided by the generosity of Belleville residents who left food donations by their mailboxes, letter carriers helped restock food pantries throughout southwestern Illinois.
On a separate matter, despite what you may have heard, postal operations are profitable. The Postal Service reported $1.4 billion in operating profits in Fiscal Year 2014, a figure already surpassed in fiscal 2015’s first half. An improving economy has helped stabilize mail revenue, and online shopping by folks in Belleville and elsewhere has package revenue skyrocketing. All this without a dime of taxpayer money.
The red ink stems not from the mail but from Washington politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits. No other entity has to pre-fund for even one year; the Postal Service must pre-fund 75 years into the future and pay for it all over a decade. That $5.6 billion annual charge is the red ink.
Some in Washington would use this artificial financial “crisis” to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, which would prevent Metro East’s small businesses from receiving checks and orders on weekends; and to end door-to-door delivery, compelling residents to traipse daily around neighborhoods seeking cluster boxes.
Illinoisans should urge their congressional representatives to preserve services while addressing pre-funding. Then the Postal Service can continue to offer Americans the world’s most-affordable delivery network. And, of course, to serve communities as discussed above.
Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington, D.C.