Rural Wisconsin still faces postal service slowdowns and cuts backed by Ron Johnson
A long-sought reform bill has finally become law, but small businesses, farmers and veterans have been forced into costlier alternatives that pose risks to their time-sensitive shipments.
When La Crosse’s Tina Pohlman has to send important documents to a colleague in California, Senator Ron Johnson isn’t far from her mind — and not in a good way. She holds him responsible for backing US Postal Service (USPS) cuts and slowdowns that have impacted his efforts to raise funds for medical research.
“He’s not looking for small businesses like mine,” Pohlman said of Johnson. “He’s not looking for small and medium-sized businesses that regularly use the U.S. Postal Service.”
Pohlman was aware of the ongoing issues with the USPS, but said they hadn’t had a major impact on her until this year, as she handled the annual state-by-state registrations needed to fundraising for the APS Foundation of America, which she founded to raise awareness of antiphospholipid syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes multiple miscarriages, thrombosis, early strokes and heart attacks.
While state governments are getting a little better at processing licenses and permits through standardized forms and online sites, Pohlman said it’s still a major undertaking each May to submit paper forms and payments to numerous states in the short time after the nonprofit group completed its Internal Revenue Service paperwork.
The secretary of the foundation lives in California. Most years, Pohlman says, the annual rush to register across the country was predictable.
“I could trust the two-day envelope to make it happen,” Pohlman said. “And she could put it in a two-day envelope and have it back. And we wouldn’t have to worry about anything. We could follow him and there would be no question.
But in April, the USPS announced a reduction in its “punctuality” standards – allowing up to five days for a first-class package to arrive, as more mail was being shipped by truck rather than air. For urgent business, Pohlman said, they felt compelled to use more expensive private carriers.
“We would rather our money go to awareness and research,” said Pohlman, a patient with lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome. “It’s hurting my nonprofit’s portfolio, and it’s going to hurt research and outreach to my clients and people with antiphospholipid syndrome.”
The situation could be on the verge of improvement after the passage of the Postal Service Reform Act, signed by President Joe Biden in April, designed to free the USPS from the heavy burdens imposed by Republicans ago 15 years and severe cuts instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, an appointee of former President Donald Trump. While Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin supported the much-sought measure, Johnson opposed it and defended DeJoy for the cuts.
Johnson’s opposition to helping the Postal Service dates back more than a decade, when he opposed an attempt to help the Postal Service escape the bureaucracy he frequently criticizes in the private sector. A unique financial burden was added by congressional Republicans years earlier, forcing the USPS to prepay health care costs for future retirees, a requirement imposed on no other federal agency.
Rejecting pleas for help in 2012, Johnson said, “We simply cannot afford to add hundreds of billions more to support a service that cannot survive on its own.”
In 2020, Johnson acknowledged the issues and said the changes “should have been implemented years ago.” But rather than scrap the $50 billion artificial liability, Johnson suggested cutting overtime pay for carriers.
Back in rural Wisconsin, a lot of damage has already been done. Farmers who used to use the post office to send everything from bees to chicks have had to switch to other carriers after thousands of small animals died in the delayed shipments. Veterans faced delays in receiving their prescription medications. And small businesses in Wisconsin that were singing the praises of the Postal Service’s reliability have switched to more expensive private carriers, only exacerbating the financial strain on the USPS.
For Pohlman, Johnson’s actions are not going well.
“I was pretty disgusted that he voted no. I mean, he pays lip service to us a lot, but he says one thing and does another,” she said.
“I’m a businesswoman, and he’s not interested in small businesses like mine.