Two of America’s toughest problems can be tempered with one solution.
The baby boom generation is aging, creating a growing population of older, often isolated, people who the nation is ill-equipped to respond to or even monitor.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service has taken on $ 160 billion in debt, in part because digital communications have replaced postal mail. This year, he called for two tariff increases for stamps and other services, bringing the price of a first-class stamp to 58 cents. He’s running an aggressive TV advertising campaign, presumably to build support for Congress to step in with some sort of bailout.
So here’s a potential win-win solution: getting letter carriers to spend less time delivering mail, much of which now involves flyers and solicitations. Instead, include in their responsibilities – “prompt completion of their designated rounds” – home visits and basic health checks on the growing frail and elderly population.
It may sound original, but it is already done successfully and with profit in other countries, such as France and Japan. Indeed, the idea that the USPS could become more involved in home health services – to meet a need and earn money – has been suggested by the Inspector General’s own office. the agency in March.
So far, other solutions to meet the need for home care have proven elusive. President Joe Biden proposed $ 400 billion in his initial infrastructure plan to improve services for homebound seniors, a feature Congress has not embraced. But the Congressional Democratic reconciliation budget resolution, currently under debate, could allocate money to the cause.
Meanwhile, tens of millions of older Americans – the “old folks” – are not so sick that they need a hospital but are unable to live safely at home without help. In Maine, the state with the oldest population, an estimated 10,000 hours of needed and approved home care is not provided each week due to a shortage of workers. This, for example, leaves patients with dementia precocious to fend for themselves at great risk. People who need help preparing medicine or meals may miss both.
Postal workers are already present on virtually every block in America six days a week. They are “people of people”, as recent television commercials show, often appreciated by their customers.
Yes, letter carriers are already busy, in part because of the volume of parcel deliveries, which jumped during the pandemic. But what about abandoning the idea of daily delivery? This too was suggested by the agency’s inspector general ten years ago. Mail could be delivered a few times a week, say, every other day. And on the days off, presto, we get new home health workers in the field.
They could make house calls, to address an epidemic of loneliness among elderly Americans confined to their homes and to check if a client has an adequate supply of food and medicine. With a little retraining, they could check and record blood pressure, test blood sugar in people with diabetes, and even administer pills.
Letter carriers already effectively serve as informal watchdogs, noticing if an older customer hasn’t picked up the mail, for example. In parts of the country, this function is formalized as part of a voluntary program called Carrier Alert, in which the postal service notifies a participating service agency, noted Brian Renfroe, executive vice president of the National Association of Letter Carriers. .
But the USPS could be paid, by the government or by individuals, for this and other valuable services.
In France, since 2017, families can pay a small monthly fee to La Poste – around 20 euros or $ 24 – to complete the home check-in of an older relative. The service, called Watch Over My Parents, offers one to six visits per week, and the postman reports the resident’s condition to the customer each time.
Japan launched a similar postal program as part of a public-private partnership in 2017, to ensure monthly half-hour visits (a friendly chat and a health check) with members of the aging population in residence.
The post office’s essential functions – like delivering the federal government’s $ 1,200 pandemic relief checks, mail-in ballots, and prescription drugs – are too important to lose. And USPS finances have improved recently, in part because of package deliveries and a $ 10 billion loan under the 2020 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
But when was the last time you ran to the mailbox to hear from a friend, check the news, or grab a bank statement or invoice? It makes financial and social sense for the agency to evolve to meet the nation’s current needs.
Of course, this will not be enough to close the USPS ‘$ 160 billion budget gap, much of which stems from a government mandate to pre-fund the agency’s pension plan and, in particular, its health benefits for retirees. Without it, the USPS would have been in the dark (often barely) for about half the years since 2006 – although, overall, its debt stood at nearly $ 10 billion during the period. .
Resolving this requirement will require congressional intervention; changes will also be needed in a law that currently requires delivery six days a week and generally prevents the USPS from offering “non-postal” products. Biparty legislation introduced in the Senate this year aims to ease this latest restriction to help the USPS make money through services of “increased value to the public” (like the sale of hunting and fishing licenses).
Today, the Postal Service delivers large amounts of “junk mail” also known as direct mail. Businesses spend around $ 167 a year on direct mail per person, which generates good returns, according to the industry. But much of it ends up unread and unopened in the trash or recycling bin, an environmental nightmare.
Why not instead redeploy some of the US Postal Service’s vast human resource offering to deliver a service our aging population – and our country – desperately needs?