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Wednesday April 23rd 2014

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44-Cent Ticket to the Future

You can’t do much with 44 cents. Except mail a letter.

For less than half a dollar, the United States Postal Service will take your letter here and deliver it way over there. Apparently, in inclement weather.

For the price of a postage stamp, staffers at U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller’s Bayou Boulevard office could send him a letter all the way up in Washington, D.C., to let him know how it’s going Tuesday during the American Postal Workers Union’s rally. But they’ll probably just call.

“I’ll be here,” Miller said from D.C. “But I usually get a report from the office. We usually have bottles of water — a cooler on wheels.”

Local members of the USPS’s union will be holding a rally at Miller’s office in conjunction with similar events nationwide. Billed as Save America’s Postal Service, the day is aimed at raising awareness of the cuts planned for the postal service.

“We have hundreds of customers come in daily and say, ‘you’re not going to be one of the one’s that’s closed,’” said Jim Dey, vice president of the local chapter of the American Postal Workers Union.

The postal workers are rightly nervous. There’s a bill (HR 2309) making its way around Washington that calls for budget cuts to the tune of branch closures and delivery reductions. Obviously, there will be layoffs.

Miller is a co-sponsor of this bill. The day it passed through a house subcommittee, Sept. 21, the Congressman talked about the need for a leaner, more streamlined postal service.

“In today’s economic climate — let me back up,” Miller paused. “I understand their concern.”

No one wants to come down on the postman. They wear short pants and tall socks and bring birthday cards from grandma. They don’t have those cool Jeeps anymore, but they still get to drive on the wrong side of the road.

Can the bright, shiny future find no room for the antiquated comforts of a weathered postmark?

“The times have changed,” Miller said. “It’s now begun to change very rapidly.”

True. A lot of people pay their bills online, and hardly anyone sends letters anymore. Paper, in general, is slowly becoming less a part of our daily lives.
Miller said he does recognize that there are those who still use the postal service regularly, but maintained it could and should be slimmed down to meet the needs of the future.

“It’s at the stage that is very similar to the financial situation that our country finds itself in,” Miller said. “There are very few options left.”

The postal workers’ union has a different solution. They are backing another bill (HR 1351) that would allow funds to be released from the union’s pensions in order to alleviate current shortfalls.

“That’s billions of dollars,” Dey said. “If everybody in the post office were to retire tomorrow, they’d have money to pay us all.”

In theory, the temporary boost from the release of funds could bridge the postal service through rough economic times.

“If this bill passes, it will put us on firm financial footing for the future,” Dey said. “We’re not looking for a handout, we’re just looking for this burden lifted off our back.”

Miller’s not sold.

“I think it’s a temporary fix,” he said.

Dey also said increasing postage rates for commercial customers would help ease the service’s financial pains. He blamed the lack of commercial rate increases on the bulk-mail industry’s lobbying powers.

“If the rate was raised a nickel across the board, that’d go a long ways,” he said. “I don’t think we’d have to go up on stamps for years to come.”

Postal workers hope to win lawmakers over to their side of the street on rally day. It’s being framed as a fight for an american icon.

“I still see the need to deliver mail to every house,” Dey said.

Locally, it’s probably an exercise in ritual. Miller is squarely on the other team’s bench. But at least the Congressman is planning to wheel a cooler full of bottled water to the game.