The National Postal Museum in Washington, DC—part of the Smithsonian Institution– has just opened a new wing, the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery to commemorate what stamps and the post office have meant to the U.S.
The New York Times says this exhibit comes at a time when the postage stamp is becoming extinct, a debatable point at best. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/24/arts/design/william-h-gross-stamp-gallery-at-national-postal-museum.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
The exhibit, funded by a $10 million grant from Gross, founder of investment house Pimco, includes such novelties as the inverted jenny stamp. That was a World War One-era aircraft whose image was printed upside down. Overall, it sounds like the Gross Gallery has a lot of great stuff and offers a history lesson about mail and the postal service as the agency becomes more degraded and neglected.
There’s no question that more and more people are using electronic means to communicate and pay their bills and that this trend is irreversible. But why are so many post offices, particularly in large urban areas, often very busy and overcrowded?
Certainly, part of this has to do with economic inequality and people’s proximity to cities.
In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, low income and rural people were found to use the Internet much less than their wealthier and more urban counterparts http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/reports/documents/exploringthedigitalnation-computerandinternetuseathome.pdf.
Should these people be denied access to affordable communications?
At the same time, the USPS has also embarked on closing many post offices in middle class neighborhoods in densely populated cities like New York.
The postal service has been in massive financial trouble for a long time. In the past three years, the USPS has run a net loss of about $27 billion over and is seeking new increases that would, among other things raise the prices of first class stamps to 49 cents from the current 46 http://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2013/pr13_077.htm.
A full $16.7 billion of this amount results from defaults on obligatory payments to the U.S. Treasury to cover the healthcare costs of future retirees mandated in the last postal reform law in 2007.
A current bill in the Senate, co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) would modify but not eliminate the retiree healthcare cost provision. No other federal agency carries such a backbreaking financial burden. Indeed, this provision may have been inserted into that 2007 law to help destroy the postal service http://www.carper.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=b849c373-f6a3-4548-9bb4-a25b90e330a7
If recent history is any guide the USPS won’t likely get the time of day in its quest from the Postal Regulatory Commission, which must sign off on rate increase matters. One possible reason is opposition from the mailing industry such as the Direct Marketing Association http://thedma.org/2013/09/25/dma-opposes-postal-board-decision-to-raise-postal-rates-above-inflation/
Similarly, Congress, which must pass any sort of postal reform legislation, isn’t even going to give one iota of thought to the postal service in an atmosphere where certain factions are engaged in a futile effort to close down the government entirely which would happen if Congress does not vote to raise the national debt ceiling before Oct 1.
They apparently can’t get their own way on repealing the four-year-old Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and other popular and necessary programs. Some extremist members have even engaged in ridiculous political grandstanding that’s not going to sway anybody.
However this debt ceiling dispute plays out in the end, it’s unlikely Congress will pay any mind to the condition of the USPS anytime soon as it inches closer to the precipice.