Robin Trudel

Fairview rural mail carrier Robin Trudell makes a stop along her 82-mile route that takes her along county roads outside town in November 2015.

Readers were well served by your April 16 news story on the U.S Postal Service, which highlighted USPS’ importance while raising issues related to delivery times.

As your reporter noted, postal customers — whether residents or “mail-dependent businesses like small newspapers” — need high-quality and reliable service. That’s true throughout the country; it’s especially imperative in large, rural states like Montana, the nation’s fourth-biggest state.

You also accurately characterized the active role of Montana’s representatives in Washington D.C. in working on postal reform that will address the issues.

I’d like to take this opportunity to provide some additional information about the value of the Postal Service, factors that have led to the current situation, and the path forward.

First, some background.

The Postal Service delivers to 155 million homes and businesses six and increasingly seven days a week. It is based in the Constitution and serves as the center of civic life in thousands of small towns and rural communities while helping unite this vast nation — as the Founders intended.

It’s consistently rated the public’s most-trusted federal agency, and is the country’s largest employer of military veterans.

USPS provides Americans and their businesses with the industrial world’s most affordable delivery network — and does so without a dime of taxpayer money. By law, the Postal Service earns its revenue, through the sale of stamps and other products and services.

USPS also is the centerpiece of the $1.3 trillion national mailing industry that employs 7 million Americans in the private sector, including 26,879 Montanans.

So the Postal Service is a driving engine of our national economy, as much today as ever.

USPS and letter carriers also play a key role in improving the quality of life in communities everywhere. Next month, as they do the second Saturday of every May, letter carriers will conduct the nation’s largest single-day food drive to help replenish food banks, pantries and shelters.

May 13 food drive

With the generosity of residents in Montana and beyond, letter carriers last year collected a record 80 million pounds of food. We hope the 25th annual food drive, set for May 13, will be just as successful.

Every day as they deliver mail on their routes, letter carriers help save the elderly or other residents who have fallen or experienced medical problems, put out fires, locate missing children or help stop crimes in progress.

Despite what you may have heard, the Postal Service operates in the black — $3.7 billion since 2013. Operating profit for Fiscal Year 2017’s first quarter alone was $522 million.

As the economy improves from the worst recession in 80 years, letter revenue is stabilizing. And as the Internet drives online shopping in Billings and elsewhere, package revenue is rising sharply — up 16 percent in 2016. As a result, revenue earned from delivering the mail more than pays all normal costs of delivering the mail.

Political red ink

There is red ink but it stems not from the mail but rather from congressional politics. In 2006, a lame-duck Congress mandated that the Postal Service pre-fund retiree health benefits decades into the future. No other government agency or private company has to do this. That $5.8 billion annual charge not only is the ‘red ink’ — it disguises the actual profits USPS is making.

This political mandate has created an artificial financial crisis at USPS that has led to the closing of postal processing facilities and the reduction of hours in some post offices, the slowing of mail and the resulting frustration among businesses and residents discussed in your article.

The Postal Service, postal unions, key lawmakers and industry groups have coalesced around core legislative proposals that would address pre-funding while preserving and strengthening the invaluable postal networks.

If Montana’s elected representatives in Washington continue to play an active role on postal issues and lend their support to such reform legislation, USPS can provide Americans and their businesses with the quality service they rely on. Folks in Billings, Butte, Missoula, Helena and throughout your beautiful state deserve that — and it’s what letter carriers are committed to delivering.

Fredric Rolando is president of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Washington, D.C.