U.S. Postal Service

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been under continuous financial pressure since 2008. Funded exclusively by selling its products and services, it has suffered from a decline in its first‐class mail business, due in part to the rise of electronic mail, especially for billing.

During this period USPS has reduced its workforce considerably, streamlined operations for greater efficiency, and increased its package deliveries. In this way it has managed to achieve an operating profit.  However it is still seriously in the red because it has not been able to meet the requirement set by Congress to prefund its future retiree health care benefits. 

Congress has attempted several times in the last several years to address the Postal Service’s issues comprehensively. A major bill (S. 1789) passed the Senate in 2012, but got no further.vLegislators and government officials continue to struggle with the problem. Recently, reforms to the Postal Service have been offered by: 

  • the Department of Treasury’s Postal Task Force in their 2018 report, 
  • the Postmaster General in her statement to the House of Representatives in 2019, 
  • the House of Representatives, which passed the USPS Fairness Act (H.R. 2382) in early 2020. 

The major issues they have addressed include:

  • the requirement for prefunding of future retiree health benefits,
  • whether to allow USPS to raise their postal rates,
  • whether the Postal Service should be allowed to start up new lines of business, offering non‐postal services and products.

PPC conducted a study in 2015 of these issues and more based on proposals put forward at the time by the Postmaster General, the Inspector General, and bills under consideration in the Senate and House.

National Sample: 714 registered voters
Margin of Error: +/- 3.7%
Fielded: July 2 – August 12, 2015

There were also oversamples of 1,542 respondents from Virginia, Maryland, Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, Oklahoma and Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District. This data can be found in the questionnaire.

Questionnaire with Frequencies (PDF)
Full Report (PDF)

Proposals with bipartisan support discussed below include:

  • Reducing or eliminating the USPS’ retirement pre-funding requirement
  • Allowing USPS to offer a wider range of products and services
  • Allowing USPS to close a number of their unprofitable offices
  • Eliminating Saturday letter delivery
  • Mandating or promoting the voluntary conversion of door-delivery mailboxes to curbside or cluster boxes
  • Requiring that, in the event of labor disputes, arbitrators take into account the USPS’ long-term financial stability
  • Allowing postal rates to rise faster than inflation

MAKING THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE MORE VIABLE

Respondents were introduced to the issue of this requirement to fully pre-fund retirement benefits, as follows:

For many years the Postal Service paid for the current health insurance costs of employees and people who previously worked for the postal service and are now retired.

In 2006, Congress made a new requirement that the Postal Service also make payments into a fund to cover 100% of:

  • the projected future health insurance costs of all current retirees; and
  • the projected future health insurance costs of all current workers for when they retire.

These required payments were, on average, $5.5 billion per year over ten years.

For the first few years the Postal Service was able to make these payments so that the fund reached the level of covering approximately 50 percent of those projected future costs.

However, with the economic downturn and the other financial problems the Postal Service encountered, the Postmaster General said it did not have the funds to keep making these payments.

Respondents were then introduced to the idea of relaxing this requirement, as a way to improve the financial situation of the USPS.

The Postmaster General has requested that the law be changed so that the Postal Service is not required to make further payments to the fund.

They were then presented the proposal:

So the proposal for you to now consider is for Congress to change the law and either end or reduce the requirement for making these pre-payments for projected future retirement health benefits.

They then evaluated two pairs of arguments for and against relaxing this requirement.

The arguments in favor were found convincing by large majorities of 74% and 83%, with little partisan difference. Independents were the least likely to find the arguments convincing. 

The arguments against were found convincing by smaller majorities of 54% and 64%, with minimal partisan difference. Mirroring the responses to the pro arguments, independents were the most likely to find the con arguments convincing. 

Respondents then assessed two proposals: 

  • to end the requirement for further prefunding, 
  • to reduce the requirement so that only 80 percent, not 100 percent, of future costs would be covered and stretch out the period for reaching that level. This would reduce the Postal Service’s average annual payment from $5.5 billion to about $3.8 billion over the next five years.

They were then asked how acceptable the proposals would be on a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “just tolerable.” 

The proposal to end the requirement was found acceptable (6-10) by 64%, including 65% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats, as well as 59% of independents.

The proposal to reduce the prefunding level from its current requirement of covering 100% of future costs down to 80%, and stretch out the period for reaching that level was found acceptable by 63%, with no partisan difference.

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to choose among three options, including the two proposals and to “Maintain the current requirement for making payments toward pre-funding 100% of future retiree health benefits

An overwhelming majority (83%) recommended relaxing the requirement by to prefund future retiree health benefits by at least eighty percent:

  • end the requirement 36%, 
  • reduce it to eighty percent 47%. 

This included 86% of Republicans (38% end, 48% reduce), 86% of Democrats (end 41%, reduce 45%) and 78% of independents (end 27%, reduce 51%). 


Status of Proposal
The proposal to eliminate the requirement to prefund retiree health benefits was recommended by the Postmaster General in 2010.

In 2015, the proposal to reduce prefunding requirement to 80% was included in the Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act of 2015 sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper (D) (S. 2051) in the 114th Congress. This bill did not make it out of committee.

The proposal to eliminate prefunding requirements is in the USPS Fairness Act sponsored by Rep. DeFazio (D) (H.R. 2383) and Sen. Daines (R) (S. 2965) in the 116th Congress. This bill passed the House with 222 Democrats and 87 Republicans voting in favor, and 105 Republicans and one independent voting against. It has yet to be taken up by the Senate.

Currently, the Postal Service is prohibited by law from diversifying beyond standard postal services. Before 2006, the Postal Service had authority to offer products such as photocopier access, pre-paid phone cards and others, but this authority was removed by an act of Congress.

The Postal Service has proposed to offer a number of new, non-postal products and services to increase its revenue.  However, Congress must first change the law to accommodate this request.

They evaluated arguments for and against the proposal. The argument in favor was found convincing by an overwhelming majority of nine in ten, including overwhelming majorities of both Republicans and Democrats.

The argument against it was found convincing by less than half, including less than half of Democrats. However, a modest majority of Republicans found it convincing. 

Respondents were then asked how acceptable they would find each one of ten possible new lines of business on a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “just tolerable”. These included new services to be provided in post offices and greater freedom in how the USPS uses its real estate.

Nine out of ten options were found acceptable (6-10) by majorities overall and among partisans. The exception was the idea of USPS offering small‐scale savings accounts to individuals; while a majority of Democrats (57%) found it acceptable less than half of Republicans did (46%).

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to choose whether they wanted to, “Permit the Postal Service to offer a wider range of new non-postal products and services.

A large bipartisan majority chose this option (89%), including 86% of Republicans and 91% of Democrats.

Respondents were then asked their final recommendations on the ten specific services.  Majorities recommended allowing nine of the ten possible new products and services shown. These majorities in favor ranged from 55% to 80%. Republicans and Democrats were very similar, though Republicans and independents tended to be a bit lower in their support on some options (internet access; a highly secure email system; and expanding international money transfers). The option of offering small-scale savings accounts was chosen by just 32%.

Response Without Undergoing Policymaking Simulation
When a separate sample was told the results of the survey above, 88% said they agreed with the majority position, including 88% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats. (PPC 2018)

Status of Proposal
The proposal to allow the Postal Service to sell a wider range of products was recommended by the Postmaster General and the GAO in 2010.

In 2012, the proposal was included in the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) (S. 1789) in the 112th Congress, which passed the Senate with 47 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting in favor and 4 Democrats and 33 Republicans voting against. It was not taken up by the House.

The proposal was then part of the Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act of 2015 sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper (D) (S. 2051) in the 115th Congress, which did not make it out of committee.

The proposal was introduced again in the 116th Congress in H.R. 3577 sponsored by Rep. McAdams (D) in the 116th Congress, which has not made it out of committee. 

The proposal was also recommended by the Postmaster General in 2019, and the Department of Treasury’s Task Force on the US Postal Service in 2018.

In 2012, there were 31,272 post offices in the United States. The Postmaster General has identified a list of 3,653 post offices that are losing money—about 12% of the total—and has proposed that the Postal Service should be able to close them without Congressional interference. The Postal Service estimates that doing this would save it $200 million a year.

Currently there are some in Congress who are opposed to closing these post offices and say that the Postal Service should not be able to make this decision without Congressional involvement.

Arguments were presented in favor of the proposal to allow the Postal Service to close unprofitable post offices.  These were found convincing by large majorities of 81% and 87%, with small partisan differences. 

The first con argument was found convincing by an overall majority, including majorities of both parties, but the second con argument was found convincing by only about half (49%), including less than half of Republicans but a clear majority of Democrats.

Respondents were then asked how acceptable the following two proposals would be on a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “just tolerable”:

Permit the Postal Service to close most of the post offices that operate at a significant loss. This would be as much as 12% of post offices nationwide.  The Postal Service estimates that doing this would save $200 million a year.

This was found acceptable (6-10) by 62%, including 67% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats.

The Postal Service would be permitted to close no more than five percent of existing unprofitable post offices each year. 

This was found acceptable by a bare majority of 52%, with minimal partisan differences. 

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to choose between the two proposals (a 12 percent and a 5 percent closing rate), or “NOT specify the number of post offices to be closed, but continue to negotiate each closure on a case‐by‐case basis, with members of Congress possibly being involved.”

Two‐thirds recommended one of the plans for reducing unprofitable post offices, including 73% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats. Less than a third (30%) supported the more sweeping 12 percent plan, which was more popular among Republicans (38%) than Democrats (22%). Over a third (36%) chose letting USPS close no more than 5 percent of the unprofitable post offices each year, including 35% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats.

Response Without Undergoing Policymaking Simulation
When a separate sample was told the results of the survey above, 58% said they agreed with the majority position to allow USPS close up to 5% of its unprofitable post offices , including 67% of Republicans and 54% of Democrats. (PPC 2018)

Related Standard Polls
Standard polls have found highly inconsistent responses to poll questions about closing post offices.  While some questions explicitly include closing “your local post office,” this does not have an apparent effect on support. 

Here are two cases in which a plurality or modest majority have favored doing so: 

  • Told in 2012 that, “the US Postal Service is anticipating billions of dollars in losses this year,” and asked whether they favor, “closing some post office branches as a way to help the Postal Service solve its financial problems,” 49% were in favor and 44% opposed, with a majority of Republicans in favor (59%) and Democrats were divided (favor 46%, opposed 48%). (June 2012, CBS News/New York Times)
  • Asked in 2011 whether they support, “closing some post office branches, including your local office as a way to help the Postal Service solve its financial problems,” 53% were in support, including 59% of Republicans, but just 46% of Democrats (52% opposed). (September 2011, Quinnipiac University)

Here are two cases in which large majorities were opposed:

  • In 2010, respondents were told that, “the US Postal Service recently announced that it is anticipating billions of dollars in losses this year.” They were then asked whether they would favor, “each of the following as a way to help the Postal Service solve its financial problems: How about...close your local post office branch?” A large majority of 85% were opposed, including 89% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats. (March 2010, Gallup)
  • Respondents were told in 2010 that, “the US (United States) Postal Service recently announced that it is anticipating billions of dollars in losses this year..” They were then asked whether they would favor, “each of the following as a way to help the Postal Service solve its financial problems: Close some post office branches, including your local office.” A majority of 64% opposed, including 60% of Republicans and 66% of Democrats. (March 2010, Washington Post)

When respondents were given a list of options for addressing the Postal Service’s problems only a small minority selected the option of permanently closing post offices.  

  • Respondents were told, “The US Postal Service has had severe financial difficulties over the years, and is looking for ways to reduce expenses.” They were then asked, “If the decision on how to reduce expenses was yours to make, which of the following options would you choose” and presented a list that included “close some local post offices permanently.” Only 29% chose this option, including 29% of Republicans and 28% of Democrats. (February 2013, Social Science Research Solutions for AARP)

Status of Proposal
The proposal to allow the Postal Service to close some of its unprofitable offices was in the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S. 1789) sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) in the 112th Congress. This bill passed the Senate with 47 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting in favor and 4 Democrats and 33 Republicans voting against. It was not taken up by the House. No legislation has since been introduced that includes this proposal.

One option for the Postal Service to reduce its costs is to eliminate delivery of letters and commercial mail on Saturdays. Packages would still be delivered and Post Offices would still be open on Saturdays.

They evaluated two pairs of arguments for and against the proposal. The pro arguments were found convincing by large bipartisan majorities of 78% and 77%, with minimal partisan difference. 

The con arguments were much less persuasive. One was found convincing by less than half (48%). The other was found convincing by a modest majority of 53%. Majorities of Democrats found both convincing.

Respondents were then asked to rate how acceptable the following proposal would be on a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “just tolerable”:

Eliminate Saturday letter delivery, while retaining Saturday delivery of packages, such as mail order medicines, and Priority Mail. Post office hours would not be affected.  This change is estimated to eventually save about $2 billion a year.

This was found acceptable (6-10) by 72%, with minimal partisan differences. 

At the very end of the survey, respondents were asked to choose between the following options:

  • For Saturdays: eliminate letter delivery, but keep delivery of packages and priority mail
  • Do NOT reduce Saturday delivery

Reducing Saturday delivery was chosen by 67%. The Republican majority (75%) was distinctly higher than the Democratic majority (60%).

Response Without Undergoing Policymaking Simulation
When a separate sample was told the results of the survey above, 65% said they agreed with the majority position , including 71% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats. (PPC 2018)

Related Standard Polls
Ending Saturday mail delivery as a way to help the USPS’ financial situation has been favored by majorities ranging from modest to large majorities:

  • Respondents were first asked whether they had, “read or heard about the Postal Service announcing they will stop Saturday delivery of letters in order to address budget shortfalls. Then, asked whether they approved of “the Postal Service's decision to stop Saturday delivery of letters,” 54% approved, including 57% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats. (February 2013, Pew)
  • Respondents were told that, “The US Postal Service has had severe financial difficulties over the years, and is looking for ways to reduce expenses.” They were then asked, “If the decision on how to reduce expenses was yours to make, which of the following options would you choose: Would you… end Saturday mail deliveries.” A majority of 60% were in favor, including 67% of Republicans, 62% of Democrats and 55% of independents. (February 2013, Social Science Research Solutions for AARP)
  • Asked whether they favor “ending Saturday deliveries of first class mail as a way to help the Postal Service solve its financial problems,” 71% were in favor, including 75% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats. (February 2013, CBS News)

Status of Proposal
The proposal to eliminate Saturday delivery was recommended by the Postmaster General and the GAO in 2010. It was recommended again by the Postmaster General in 2013. There is no active legislation calling for this change. 

Right now, in urban and suburban areas many people receive their mail directly at their door while others receive their mail in curbside mailboxes or neighborhood cluster mailboxes (called cluster boxes). One option that would save money would be to require most customers to put a mailbox on the curb instead, or to get their mail at neighborhood cluster boxes down the street. Exceptions would be made for people who have disabilities.

Both pro and con arguments were found convincing, by bipartisan majorities, but the argument in favor did better. The pro argument was found convincing by a rather robust 73% (79% of Republicans,67% of Democrats). The con argument did less well, with 60% finding it convincing with minimal partisan differences.

Respondents were asked how acceptable the following two proposals would be on a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “just tolerable.” The first went: 

The Postal Service would be required by law to convert 30 million mailboxes--about a quarter of all addresses--from door delivery to curbside mailboxes or cluster boxes over the next ten years.  This would mean about 80 percent of all door delivery mail boxes would be changed.

This proposal was found acceptable (6-10) by 58%, including 65% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats.  The second proposal was: 

Do not require that people change their mail delivery away from door delivery, but let the local Postal Service managers try to work with people in neighborhoods to make the change to curbside or cluster box delivery on a voluntary basis.

This proposal was found acceptable by about half (51%) with no significant partisan differences. It was found at least tolerable (5-10) by 67%, including 66% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats.

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to choose between the following:

  • Require most door-delivery mail boxes to be converted to curbside or cluster boxes 
  • Promote voluntary conversion from door-delivery to curbside or cluster boxes
  • Do NOT make any changes to door delivery

A large bipartisan majority of 79% chose one of the two options for mailbox conversion (required 41%, voluntary 38%),  This included 82% of Republicans (required 50%, voluntary 32%) and 72% of Democrats (required 33%, voluntary 39%). 

Status of Proposal
Converting more door-delivery mailboxes to cluster or curbside mailboxes was recommended by the Postmaster General and GAO in 2010.

In 2015, the proposal was included in the Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act (S. 2051), sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper (D) in the 114th Congress, which did not make it out of committee. There is no longer active legislation calling for this change. 

In general, the Postal Service can raise rates only at the rate of inflation for most of its mail. You may have seen the price of a stamp for a first class letter go up now and then—most recently it went up to 49 cents for an ounce. But after adjusting for inflation, the price of first class mail has actually stayed quite constant for some decades.  Rates for commercial bulk mail have also remained stable after adjusting for inflation.

The problem for the Postal Service is that its costs have been going up faster than inflation. Thus, the Postal Service has requested that it be allowed to raise some of its rates faster than inflation when its costs are growing faster than inflation.  

It has been proposed that Congress enable the Postal Service to raise its prices on the delivery of some classes of mail by more than the rate of inflation.  

There is a Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) that would still have to approve each rate increase. The PRC’s members are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate to oversee the Postal Service and ensure that it acts consistent with the public interest. 

They evaluated two pairs of arguments for and against the proposal. The arguments in favor were found convincing by large majorities of 81% and 69%. 

The first argument against was found convincing by 73%, including a similar share of Republicans and Democrats, but a larger majority of independents (78%). The second argument against was found convincing by just half.

They were asked to rate how acceptable the following proposal would be on a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “just tolerable”:

The general requirement that rates cannot rise faster than inflation would be phased out over three years. The Postal Service would be allowed to raise a postal rate in step with its costs for that type of mail, even if that would mean rates would rise faster than inflation. The Postal Regulatory Commission would still have to review and approve each rate increase.

A majority of 61% rated it acceptable (6-10), including 58% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats.

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to choose between two options:

  • Permit postal rates to rise in step with the Postal Service’s costs, phasing out the rule that postal rates cannot rise faster than inflation
  • Maintain the requirement that postal rates cannot rise faster than inflation

The proposal to allow postal rates to rise faster than inflation was chosen by 59%, including 56% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats.

Response Without Undergoing Policymaking Simulation
When a separate sample was told the results of the survey above, 45% said they agreed with the majority position, including 45% of Republicans and 48% of Democrats. (PPC 2018)

Status of Proposal
The proposal to allow the Postal Service to increase its postal rates above inflation was recommended by the Postmaster General and the GAO in 2010.

The proposal was then put in the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S. 1789), sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) in the 112th Congress, which passed the Senate with 47 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting in favor and 4 Democrats and 33 Republicans voting against. It was not taken up by the House.

In 2015, the proposal was included in the Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act (S. 2051), sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper (D) in the 114th Congress, which did not make it out of committee.

Since then, the proposal was recommended by the Postmaster General in 2019, as well as the Department of Treasury’s Task Force on the US Postal Service in 2018. There is no longer active legislation calling for this change. 

The proposal is not currently part of any active legislation.

Another proposal deals with labor relations. It would change how collective bargaining disputes between the Postal Service and the labor unions that represent postal workers are resolved. Currently, if the Postal Service and a union cannot reach agreement, after a certain period they are both required to present their cases to a federal arbitrator, whose decision is binding. At present, arbitrators make their decisions based on what issues are raised by each side in the dispute, often including the long‐term financial condition of the Postal Service. Arbitrators must weigh all factors raised by either side. This proposal would require the arbitrator to take into account the current and long‐term financial condition of the Postal Service in every case.

They evaluated arguments for and against the proposal. Both arguments were found convincing by bipartisan majorities, but the argument in favor did better.

The argument in favor was found convincing by 71%, including majorities of both parties. The counter argument was found convincing by a smaller majority of 62%, including three quarters of Democrats and a bare majority of Republicans.


They were then asked how acceptable the proposal would be on a 0-10 scale, with 5 being “just tolerable.” A large majority of 69% found it acceptable (6-10), including 74% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats.

At the end of the survey, they were asked to choose between the following options:

  • Require labor dispute arbitrators to always take into account the Postal Service’s long-term financial condition when considering a dispute
  • Continue to allow labor dispute arbitrators to independently decide how much to take into account the Postal Service’s long-term financial condition

A clear majority of 62% recommended requiring that labor dispute arbitrators always take into account the Postal Service’s long‐term financial condition when considering a dispute.

Partisan differences were relatively strong. Seventy-three percent of Republicans chose the proposal, while Democrats were divided.

Status of Proposal
The proposal to require that labor dispute arbitrators always take into account the Postal Service’s long-term financial condition was recommended by the Postmaster General and the GAO in 2010.

The proposal was then in the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S. 1789) sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) in the 112th Congress, which passed the Senate with 47 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting in favor and 4 Democrats and 33 Republicans voting against. It was not taken up by the House.

In 2015, this proposal was part of the Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act (S. 2051), sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper (D) in the 114th Congress, which did not make it out of committee.

The proposal is not currently part of any active legislation.