LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's no secret that the U.S. Postal Service has been losing money for years. Its recent 5-cent price hike was the largest ever for stamps. Now the Trump administration thinks it's found another new way to make money - selling access to your mailbox to private companies like FedEx or UPS. NPR's Emily Sullivan reports.
EMILY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: In the midst of the Great Depression, people were trying to skimp on postage by hand-dropping letters into mailboxes. The Postal Service took a big hit, so Congress enacted something called the mailbox monopoly. By law, postal service carriers and you are the only people allowed to place letters in your mailbox.
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SULLIVAN: So, yes, dropping a note in your neighbor's mailbox is actually a crime. It has been for decades. And now the Trump administration is eyeing the Postal Service's monopoly. In a December report, the White House task force on the Postal Service suggested opening the mailbox up to private companies. The way it would work is that the Postal Service would allow private companies mailbox access for a fee.
ROBERT TAUB: Given the Postal Service's financial balance sheet math, we've got to do everything we can, it seems to me, to protect and preserve and sustain this national treasure of ours.
SULLIVAN: That's Postal Regulatory Committee (ph) Chairman Robert Taub. The Trump appointee heads the independent agency that oversees the Postal Service. The agency has racked up losses for more than a decade. You might remember these dire headlines.
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MORGAN BRENNAN: First-class mail continues to fall, and retiree costs balloon.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The ailing U.S. Postal Service is bleeding millions of dollars every hour.
SULLIVAN: One reason - it has all these massive costs. The agency must pay its workers retiree benefits decades into the future, costing it $5.5 billion each year. Another reason for all those costs - unlike other carriers, they deliver everywhere. The Postal Service delivers to more than 157 million addresses throughout the U.S., like Anaktuvuk Pass in the furthest reaches of northern Alaska.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The Arctic Wilderness. Vast, lonely yet hauntingly beautiful.
SULLIVAN: There are no roads there. Every piece of mail is flown in and out. Its post office is one of the only links to the outside world. Mark Dimondstein is the president of the American Postal Workers Union. He says UPS and FedEx themselves put millions of packages a week onto Postal Service planes and trucks. Why?
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Because they cannot make money going to where that package is going.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rather than deal with logistics, UPS or FedEx will pay the Postal Service to take their packages headed to rural areas, like northern Alaska. Delivering mail straight to your mailbox would be a benefit to these companies. Right now, UPS or FedEx carriers can't stick a package in a postal mailbox, so they spend extra time walking up and down those driveways. This proposal would mean faster delivery, especially in rural areas. And Dimondstein suspects more people will choose to spend their money with those other companies if the mailbox opens up.
DIMONDSTEIN: This proposal would actually take revenue outside of the post office.
SULLIVAN: But some Americans say the Postal Service is just different. There's a sense of nostalgia and affection. Americans know their postal carrier, often by name.
CASEY FRANCIS: You know, they're really doing an incredible thing. It's extremely complex, and it's kind of amazing that they get things to your door.
SULLIVAN: That's Casey Francis (ph), a hairdresser from Iowa and a self-described Postal Service nerd. She's the daughter of two postal carriers.
FRANCIS: If you move, the post office will find you. And they'll get you your letters, and they'll get you your package. And FedEx and UPS won't do that.
SULLIVAN: For now, the Trump administration's suggestion is just a suggestion. Why? More than half of the Postal Board of Governors' positions are vacant, and that board has the power to make changes. Emily Sullivan, NPR News.
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