Congress passes Postal Service Reform Act of 2022, but ‘our work is not done’

Tonda Rush

Apr 1, 2022

The National Newspaper Association capped a decade-and-a-half legislative campaign in March when Congress passed the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022.

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia — The National Newspaper Association capped a decade-and-a-half legislative campaign in March when Congress passed the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022.

The legislation, long promoted by NNA and other organizations whose members depend upon the mail, lifts more than $50 billion in debt to the federal government from the United States Postal Service balance sheet, restructures its payments for future retiree health benefits and seals in a mandate for Saturday mail delivery. USPS is expected to see a balance sheet that is more than $100 billion lighter in accrued obligations over the next 10 years, according to NNA experts.

The bill also enacts the Rural Newspaper Sustainability Act requested by Rep. James Comer, a western Kentucky Republican, to allow within-county newspapers to send out sample copies for nearly half of their total in-county distribution. The current ceiling on sample copies is 10% of the total. NNA assisted Comer in drafting and promoting the provision, with the assistance of the Kentucky Press Association. NNA advised members that they can soon use the enhanced allowance to affordably send out copies to attract new subscribers, according to NNA Government Relations and Postal Committee Chair Matthew Paxton, publisher of the News-Gazette, Lexington, Virginia.

President Biden was expected to sign the bill by early April. The sampling provision becomes available immediately when Biden inks the bill.

NNA Chair Brett Wesner, president of Wesner Publications, Cordell, Oklahoma, lauded NNA’s Congressional Action Team and issued a word of caution.
“The staying power of NNA’s CAT has been remarkable. Time and again for the past 15 years, we have neared the finish line only to be disappointed by Congressional dissent. Yet, year after year, the team suited up and worked on this bill because we knew the Postal Service had to be saved from massive debt imposed by the President George W. Bush administration. NNA suspected in 2006 that it was a mistake to require USPS to prefund retirees’ health costs, something the government did not require of any other agency. When that obligation was imposed, we entered a new era of complicated federal budget math that helped neither the Postal Service nor the federal government. Our reservations were unfortunately vindicated, as USPS was unable to plow $5 billion of annual cash contributions into the health fund for 13 of the 15 years since the obligation was created. So Uncle Sam just loaded up the payments as debt owned by USPS to the government.”

“Although the funding scheme never worked as intended,” Wesner continued, “the mounting obligation motivated the Postal Regulatory Commission to start passing along massive postage rate hikes, which we have faced since 2020. Now, without the debt on the balance sheet, we are looking to the PRC to scale back these increases.”

Wesner said he nonetheless advised the newspaper industry to look realistically at the impact of the legislation.

“While PSRA is a major achievement, it may have come too little, too late to accomplish its purposes,” Wesner said. “Congress delayed its action while USPS sharply curtailed mail processing, slowed mail delivery standards, deferred buying new delivery trucks and added to newspapers’ woes by slowing distribution to our subscribers. Then we faced the pandemic, the lagging economic recovery and supply chain issues that are making it hard for us to get newsprint. Some of the damage is done and we will never get back to the robust universal mail service we once had. Now we are in a recovery operation.”


Paxton said the CAT is already working on legislation to help bring down postage rates. Also, he said, newspapers must adapt. NNA and National Newspaper Association Foundation have partnered to create the Max Heath Postal Institute™ to provide more in-depth training to help newspapers navigate the new system.

“We and USPS have both seen massive change, a lot of personnel turnover and the entry of new players who may not really know how to use this changed postal system to its best advantage,” Paxton said. “NNA maintains three seats on the USPS Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, where we harvest the best insights and advice. We are offering our services to NNAF for the new Newspaper Mail school so we can train a new generation of printers and mailers. Meanwhile, as NNA, we once again roll up our sleeves on the public policy front. We have to keep at it. Our work is not done.”

NNAF President Matthew Adelman, publisher of the Douglas (Wyoming) Budget, said the MHPI™ program, begun in February, had already attracted new students.

“We decided to offer a certification program, which newspaper people can attain by mastering classes on dozens of topics that we will provide over the next two years,” Adelman said. “This educational work is foundational for an organization like ours, which cannot serve readers if we cannot reach them. It is one of many programs we are planning this year to help community newspapers continue their important missions to readers.”