Postmaster presses Congress to act on retiree bill

In a letter to a key House subcommittee chairman, US Postmaster General John Potter again pressed his case for Congressional action on proposed legislation that would reduce the agency’s out-of-pocket costs for retiree health benefits, which could save the US Postal Service $2 billion this year.

The proposed measure, HR 22, would allow the USPS to pay its share of contributions for retiree health benefits, estimated to be $2 billion this year, out of the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund. Annual payments to prefund health benefit costs for future retirees would still be made by the USPS.

The May 4 letter to Rep. Stephen Lynch, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia, seeks “prompt action on this much needed assistance.”

The bill, which has drawn 299 co-sponsors to date, was introduced in January and remains in the House subcommittee. The bill also is backed by the National Association of Letter Carriers and the American Postal Workers Union.

“As I have testified before the (subcommittee), the Postal Service desperately needs help from Congress,” Potter wrote. “Our urgent request is that the Postal Service be allowed to pay its retiree health benefits premiums from our Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund.”

The fund was established as part of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, and receives separate annual payments from the USPS to prefund the employer share of premium payments for current and future retirees.

Subcommittee spokesman Marcus Williams said the panel does not have a set agenda at this time for when the proposal might be posted for discussion or vote. The subcommittee is expected to hold its next hearing on postal issues May 20, he said.

Wednesday, the USPS announced that it finished up its second fiscal quarter, which ended March 31, with a $1.9 billion loss, citing an “unprecedented” drop in mail volume and revenues.

The agency is on track to lose about $6.4 billion this year, despite efforts to target $5.9 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2009, which ends September 30, and anticipates an additional loss of $6 billion next fiscal year, Potter wrote.

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