Both of Maine’s U.S. senators joined dozens of their colleagues in passing a $107 billion bill providing monetary relief for the U.S. Postal Service by a 79-19 margin, an unusual level of bipartisanship in the deeply divided Senate.

It is expected to put the Postal Service on a stable long-term financial footing, but won’t directly alleviate delivery delays in Maine that are primarily driven by staffing shortages.

The vote late Tuesday night marked the final hurdle for the bipartisan measure aimed at stabilizing the Postal Service, which has been beleaguered by a decline in volume of First Class mail and the effects of a 2006 act of Congress that forced it to set aside billions annually to prefund future retirees’ health plans.

Both Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King voted in favor of the bill, which also requires six-day mail delivery, and it is now almost certain to become law. It passed the House a month ago by a 342 to 92 margin and has the support of President Biden. Both of Maine’s representatives, Democrats Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, also voted for it.

“We can’t get agreement on what time it is with 79 votes,” King said during an interview after he received news of the final vote count. “This is a real achievement that’s been 15 years in the making and to get it to a place where it is this bipartisan is a real tribute to the sponsors.”

The Postal Service Reform Act eliminates an onerous requirement imposed on the organization by a 2006 law that required it to set aside billions of dollars annually to cover future retiree health care benefits for current employees, regardless of age. The requirement – which no private company observes – would have cost the service an estimated $27 billion over the next decade. It also requires future retirees to enroll in Medicare, a move the service estimates will save it $22.7 billion over 10 years because it won’t have to pay for higher premium health plans.


“The Postal Service receives effectively no support from the federal budget, and is subject to a cumbersome pre-funding mandate for retiree health care services, which is not required for any other federal agency,” Pingree, who represents Maine’s first district, said in a written statement. “Mainers and people all over the country are experiencing mail delays, sometimes going weeks without receiving paper mail. We cannot sit idly by as the service that millions of Americans rely on fails to meet basic standards.”

Rep. Golden said the Postal Service is a lifeline for rural communities in Maine.

“People across Maine rely on their local postal workers for Social Security checks, prescription medications, and to stay in touch with their families,” he said in a written statement. “This bipartisan legislation will end unnecessary financial mandates that have singled out the Postal Service and threatened its long-term stability.”

Collins did not respond to an interview request. She was a co-author of the 2006 bill that imposed the retiree health care prefunding requirement and introduced it in the Senate, but was hardly alone in her support. That bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent at a time when King’s predecessor, Republican Olympia Snowe, held Maine’s other seat. It passed the Republican-controlled House 410 to 20; Maine’s representatives at the time – Democrats Tom Allen and Mike Michaud – voted in favor.

Labor union officials representing postal workers have said the bill is a good step for the service’s future, but won’t immediately address critical staffing shortages in Maine, forcing 20 to 30 city and rural delivery routes to be curtailed as of Jan. 18, when Postmaster Louis DeJoy wrote Collins about the service’s problems.

“Nothing in the bill that I have seen so far affects day-to-day operations,” Mark Seitz, president of National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 92, which represents about 700 workers in southern Maine, told the Press Herald on Feb. 9.


Some 20 to 30 city and rural routes in Maine were curtailed partly or entirely in the first two weeks of January because of staffing shortages, DeJoy told Collins in a Jan. 18 letter. Collins and other lawmakers had written DeJoy seeking an explanation for mail delays.

“(Financial reform) is good for us going forward, but as day-to-day operations? No.” Seitz said last month. “I’d like to say it did (help), but I don’t know how it could.”

The new legislation also imposes new timely-delivery transparency requirements for the service, which has experienced dramatic delivery delays since DeJoy took office in June 2020 and ordered workers to slow the delivery of mail. He presided over the scrapping of 671 mail sorting machines and public mailboxes, fueling public suspicions that he was involved in then-President Donald Trump’s effort to delegitimize mail-in voting ahead of the 2020 presidential vote.

But DeJoy championed the bill passed last night, lobbying Republican House and Senate members in person. Although an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office found the bill will ultimately save taxpayers money, some Republicans remained opposed, calling it a taxpayer bailout for an inefficient organization.

“DeJoy has been outspoken in support of reforms I think are positive, so it’s hard to say he’s a thoroughgoing villain,” King said from the Senate cloak room Tuesday night. “I think we need to wait and see how (the Postal Service) performs without carrying this albatross of the prefunding requirement around their neck, but we have to watch and be sure that the changes are actually made in management and execution from DeJoy down to the local postmasters.”

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