The Last Christmas for the Postal Service? It Doesn't Have to Be.

Send those letters to Santa now. This may be the last Christmas the Post Office delivers.

For years, the Post Office has been under assault by forces in Congress and others who have accepted the false premise that the Post Office is outmoded, unneeded, and going bankrupt, even though the Post Office operations are actually operating at a profit. A series of unfortunate cutbacks in service and capacity is deteriorating service and potentially locks the Post Office into a death spiral of further erosion of service that will be irreversible with the closure of regional distribution centers. When letters from southern Oregon must go to Portland to be sorted and returned, one or two day service becomes a pipe dream. The perception of poor service is made a reality.

More cuts are in our future unless the American people and Congress focus on the path we are on. Next year may mark the point of no return on this postal assault, making the mad rush too many of us are part of this year pointless next year. Service could be so bad the reliability we count on and expect, even while we joke about it, becomes a memory of a bygone era.

Some claim there will be plenty of private options to take its place. In reality the alternatives like UPS and FedEx have business models that rely on a partnership with the Post Office to deliver many items. Without the infrastructure of the Post Office, the private companies would be less efficient and more expensive.

Not only would this harm people and businesses which rely on timely delivery, it poses a special threat to rural and small town America. People who do not live in metropolitan areas will have fewer delivery options and the ones they will have will be more expensive. They depend on the community connection that their local post office provides -- tax forms, help with passports, little things that otherwise are not easily available. Not everywhere is ready for an online future. In smaller, far flung areas, postal jobs are often a key source of stable, family wage jobs. What will support those families when those jobs disappear? A national postal network ties America together.

Part of what is so frustrating about this dilemma is that it is so unnecessary. The Post Office has been an independent agency for 40 years, operating without taxpayer subsidy. The postal funding "crisis" was generated because of concerns about future sustainability. No other entity in America is forced to prefund 50 years of health benefits for future retirees like the postal service. Simultaneously, the postal service's prefunding requirement yields low investment revenue, getting two or three percent annual return. Other federal programs, such as the Railroad Retirement Investment Trust, make investments that are keyed to year of retirement and earn up to five times as much. A simple adjustment to investment strategy would make hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

There is a much better path forward. We should take advantage of existing postal resources to generate revenue and capitalize on the extensive postal infrastructure across America with its trained and dedicated personnel.

One obvious area that we should put into action is universal vote by mail. Run successfully in Oregon, mail balloting saves local governments money and is the best system to address voter fraud. Every ballot is checked to the records and there is a paper trail that can be easily reconstructed. Oregon has proven that voting by mail produces better elections, saves money, and promotes democracy -- concepts that should be at the top of all of our Christmas lists.

In times of crisis -- such as an outbreak of disease or bioterrorism -- the Post Office's reliable, well-trained employees who reach every household six times a week would be invaluable. What better way to distribute medicine or test kits, check on households, or assist emergency responders. How much would that be worth to America?

Last but not least, we should reinvent the post office as a center of community life, as it used to be. Why aren't we selling lattes and providing free Wi-Fi in post offices while people wait? Why don't we go back to postal savings activities that we used to have and provide financial services to people in underserved areas?

The Post Office is one of the most important sources of family wage jobs in rural and small town America. It connects us to each other cheaply and efficiently, and has the potential to provide more services today and in the future. It's time to think about simple, commonsense steps we can take to make sure that it is on stronger financial footing and provides more benefits to Americans while protecting the livelihood of these hardworking public servants and the communities they live in and serve.