Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Idaho newspapers:

Crapo, Risch should fight for the disabled

Post Register

Aug. 16

As the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities has sought to protect home and community-based services — Medicaid-funded occupational therapy, in-home assistance and other services that allow people with disabilities to live independent lives — Idaho’s Senate delegation has been remarkably neglectful.

The HEROS Act, passed by the House, provides supplemental funding for those services to protect them as cash-strapped states with balanced-budget requirements look to make cuts. The HEALS Act, currently in Sen. Mike Crapo’s Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, contains none. If Crapo or Sen. Jim Risch plan to do anything, they’re being quiet about it.

Crapo, at least, has said he supports the services in general terms — though legislation is the only thing that matters. Risch hasn’t even bothered to issue a platitude.

When the mother of a 14-year old disabled child wrote to Risch asking him to support increased funding, she received what looks like a form letter in return, one that has nothing to do with the concerns of the disabled community.

“As Congress works to establish funding levels for the future, it is important to rein in federal spending. I recognize hundreds of thousands of hardworking Idahoans could be directly and indirectly affected as well as the many good and well-intentioned programs they care about,” Risch wrote in a curious response.

Both Risch and Crapo have shown a sudden new interest in debt and deficits as a second coronavirus aid package is debated.

Why is it necessary to rein in the deficit now, when Risch and Crapo have shown no interest in doing so for the last four years? During the last year of the Obama administration, the deficit was $485 billion. In 2019, after three years where Crapo and Rish were in the majority (but before the impact of the coronavirus), it was $984 billion.

Both Crapo and Risch supported the 2017 tax cut, which Congressional Budget Office estimates indicate increased the annual deficit by about 28%, with most of the tax benefits going to the wealthy and corporate shareholders. So when it comes to taxes on the banks that fund Crapo’s campaigns or the defense contractors that fund Risch’s, deficits don’t matter. But when it comes to allowing the disabled to live ordinary lives outside the confines of an institution, suddenly deficits are a top concern again.

Further, institutionalization is a far more expensive way to provide care for people with disabilities. If additional support for home and community-based services is not provided, it would be necessary to have even more government spending — presumably, the plan is not to let people with disabilities die in the streets.

It really doesn’t matter how often Risch and Crapo issue hollow statements warning of deficits or expressing support for those with disabilities.

The best test of a politician’s priorities isn’t their carefully crafted words but their actions. So what their newfound deficit hawkishness shows is that they care a lot about corporate profits, but when it comes to basic services for their constituents with disabilities, they just don’t have the time to think about it.

These are their revealed priorities.

The only way they can reveal different priorities is through action.

Online: Post Register


Saving the U.S. Postal Service from ‘deliberate crippling’ requires ‘a pretty easy fix’

Idaho Statesman

Aug. 19

Did you know the U.S. Postal Service is sitting on about $47 billion that could be tapped to add employees, improve service, pay overtime and otherwise make its operations more efficient?

Did you also know that the U.S. Postal Service is paying about $6.5 billion every year into that pot of money?

The Postal Service is doing that because a 2006 federal law requires the Postal Service to pay for health care benefits for retirees for the next 75 years.

“So these are people not only who haven’t yet been hired by the post office, many of them haven’t yet been born,” James O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, told me in a phone interview Monday. “No other federal agency or private corporation has ever been saddled with a massive prefunding mandate like this.”

However, “there’s a pretty easy fix there,” according to O’Rourke: Reverse the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act that mandated the health care funding, use some of the pot of money to pay health care costs of current retirees and have current employees join Medicare for their retirement, just as military veterans do.

O’Rourke speculates that the 2006 law was passed intentionally to cripple the Postal Service and speed privatization.

Postal Service finances have been in the spotlight lately, as new cuts under new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a campaign donor to President Trump appointed by Trump, have raised questions about whether the Trump administration is trying to slow the mail to delegitimize voting by mail ahead of the November election.

The Postal Service received a $10 billion loan in the first round of federal coronavirus relief money, and Congress is debating whether to add another $25 billion to the Postal Service in a second round of relief funding.

Meanwhile, reports of the Postal Service removing collection boxes, disabling 10% of automated sorting machines and cutting carriers’ overtime is raising alarms, particularly at a time when many people are calling for increased mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

DeJoy announced Tuesday that he was suspending the cuts until after the November election.

“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said in a statement released Tuesday. “Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards.”

Cuts at the Postal Service are not new and have been going on for several years, in part due to that $6.5 billion annual requirement to prefund retiree health care as well as decreased mail volume and increased costs.

Idaho has not been immune to the cuts.

“In Pocatello alone, they shut down the mail processing plant and sent that to Salt Lake City,” according to John Paige, of Pocatello, who is now retired but is the past president of the Idaho State Association of Letter Carriers, the letter carriers’ union.

That move in 2015 slowed mail delivery dramatically, Paige said. The sorting center in Boise is the only such center left in Idaho, he said.

“The Postal Service is consolidating a lot of things or scaling down a lot of services and everything right now is to save money,” Paige said.

But the cuts in the past three months under DeJoy are accelerated and concerning, according to O’Rourke.

“At this point, I’ve been following this 15 years, and I have been, in all of those years, scrupulously independent, nonjudgmental and a nonadvocate,” O’Rourke said. “I simply pointed to the numbers, looked at revenues, looked at costs, looked at the legislation. And I’ve left that neutral territory. What’s happening right now is a program of deliberate crippling. The Postal Service is being defunded brick by brick.”

The U.S. Postal Service had revenues of about $71 billion last fiscal year, according to its most recent annual report in November, and expenses of about $80 billion, a shortfall of about $9 billion. Adding back in the $6.5 billion being paid to the retiree health care fund would go a long way to reducing that deficit, and other tweaks to operations could close the gap.

Further, tapping into that $47 billion fund would allow the Postal Service to actually add carriers and increase services. O’Rourke pointed out that there are about 18 million people unemployed in the United States right now. The Postal Service could have its pick of new employees.

In defense of DeJoy, O’Rourke said he doesn’t believe DeJoy is just a political appointee.

“A CEO like Louis DeJoy comes from the logistics industry,” O’Rourke said. “He’s perfectly qualified for the job. He knows what he’s doing.”

However, “If he comes into a turnaround situation, CEOs always look at cost first and revenues second,” O’Rourke said. And the cuts he’s making are damaging to the basic operations and the public’s trust of the Postal Service.

Saving the Postal Service is not only relatively easy, it’s worth doing.

“Every nation on Earth takes pride in its postal service; I can’t imagine the United States without one,” O’Rourke said. “It’s affordable, they will deliver to the last house in Idaho. They will deliver wherever people have an address. The Postal Service touches every American. Every business day. And it’s crucial.”

Further, fixing the problem should be a bipartisan issue, according to O’Rourke.

“The reason the post office exists is to provide service to all Americans, and I would say there are just as many Republicans being harmed by this as Democrats,” O’Rourke said. “If you think that this is somehow punishing Democrats and rewarding Republicans, you haven’t spoken to either. They’re all unhappy.”

O’Rourke said making structural changes would bring the Postal Service very close to break-even, adding that the Postal Service carries more in a month than UPS or FedEx carry in a year, and, he argues, some services are essential and cannot be profitably performed by the private sector.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, sent out a guest opinion piece this week that touched on the Postal Service’s challenges during the pandemic. He didn’t offer specific solutions, but he voiced his support for the Postal Service in general.

“Any reforms to the USPS need to be thoroughly and transparently debated before Congress,” he wrote. “I remain committed to ensuring the USPS remains an organization synonymous with efficiency, reliability and financial responsibility and am working with my colleagues on policies that achieve that end.”

I hope the issue is debated in Congress and that legislators, Republican and Democrat, reach the conclusion that the Postal Service not only can be fixed but should be fixed.

Online: Idaho Statesman


What's good for the folks is no longer good politics

The Lewiston Tribune

Aug. 19

President Donald Trump and his postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, started dismantling the United States Postal Service — and there was not a whimper from Idaho’s congressional delegation.

Before DeJoy backed off, at least partially, on Tuesday, he had engaged in the removal of collection boxes, high-speed sorting machines, overtime and late-day delivery.

The Trump administration had held on to $10 billion meant to shore up the postal service from the financial hit suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic and is balking at passing another $25 billion package.

DeJoy notified 46 states that mail-in ballots could not be delivered in time for the Nov. 3 election.

And Trump made it clear his motivation in all this is to undermine mail-in voting that he believes will deprive him of a second term.

This is not some policy that will target urban, blue states.

This is a dagger aimed at red, rural states such as Idaho.

It’s here where people, including military veterans, rely on prompt mail delivery for their prescriptions.

It’s here — especially in retail deserts — where people will rely on ecommerce for their purchases.

It’s here where many senior citizens who do not rely on direct deposit get their Social Security checks and bills in the mail.

And it’s here where people cast their mail-in ballots.

Even before Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus stay-home order required an all-absentee ballot May 19 primary election, Idaho’s politicians rounded up votes through the mail.

A regular feature of the Idaho GOP has involved mailing out absentee ballot applications to reliable Republican voters.

More than that, politicians of all stripes maintain contact with voters through the mail box. If you’re not getting a fundraising letter, then it’s a glossy campaign ad.

Trump’s electoral fortunes aside, DeJoy’s strategy is tied to a campaign to privatize the postal service — or at the very least minimize its subsidy.

It’s part of a pattern. About 14 years ago, Congress required the agency to set aside $72 billion to pay for the cost of its post-retirement health care costs more than 50 years into the future. Without that obligation, the postal service would have been in the financial black during the past six years.

Such GOP antipathy toward the USPS reflects its unionized workforce. The National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents 300,000 current and retired workers, has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden.

But who would that hurt?

It doesn’t cost as much money to deliver mail in high-density urban centers. There’s no such economy of scale in distributing letters and parcels to sparsely settled places such as Kamiah and St. Maries or Challis and Rogerson.

Take away the subsidy and those communities may wind up with sporadic delivery.

The history of Idaho and the West was one of reliance on the largess of urban taxpayers.

Do you think Idahoans can afford their own highways?

How about their broadband systems?

Who do you think paid for the dams and canals that irrigate southern Idaho’s farms — or for that matter, north central Idaho’s slackwater system?

What would happen to Idaho’s airports if they were expected to pay their own way?

What about the rural communities that depend on federal Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes?

Idaho’s congressional delegation enthusiastically promotes and defends all of that. They do it because it’s good for their communities. If any of those programs faced a hostile White House budget knife or cabinet officer, they would rush to its defense.

And none of those programs come close to the 91 percent public approval the USPS enjoys.

So it’s not surprising that Sen. Steven Daines, R-Mont., rallied to defend the post office. He’s among those who support passing the $25 billion infusion of cash into the USPS.

“The USPS is critical to Montanans, especially our seniors, veterans, and rural communities across the Treasure State,” he said. “Ensuring that the USPS is on a sustainable fiscal path while maintaining high quality of service to Montana and all Americans is critically important.”

Added Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., “During the current public health crisis it is more important than ever the USPS continue to provide prompt, dependable delivery service.”

But from Idaho’s Republican congressional delegation, you’ve heard hardly a whimper. Since when did good policy for the people back home become bad politics for them? Do they fear Trump that much more than their own voters?

Online: The Lewiston Tribune