Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the 320,000 members of the National Association of Letter Carriers and myself, I'd like to thank you for holding this important hearing today. I know that you and the members of this committee will understand if I say that I really wish that this hearing was not taking place, but given the current situation we at the NALC appreciate your concern.
The expressions of support that we have received over the last week and a half have been heartening. To every American, the sight of their letter carrier is a symbol of our national community. It is as familiar as virtually any image of our country. When the perpetrators embarked on this heinous attack they could not possibly have imagined the strength and compassion of the American public.
I know that Congress is keenly aware of the role that the mail plays in our society. As Senator Daschle recently pointed out, "I don't know of anything more important than mail. (Lawmakers) read their mail in order to get a sense of what people are thinking. They read their mail because people have specific concerns
. To be cut off from your mail is really a major impediment to the way any Senate or House office works and functions." In this past Sunday's Washington Post, Helen Dewar reported, "Members say a hand-written letter has a personal quality that is irreplaceable. Its absence, they say, has eroded their own sense of confidence that they are in close contact with the people who elect them, especially the less-affluent and others who do not have computers." Congresswoman Connie Morella stated that, with her Washington office unable to receive mail, constituents were dropping off their letters at her house.
When we are confronted with a challenge of this magnitude that is wholly removed from anything we have seen before, the learning curve is steep. But the Postal Service and all of the employee organizations have been able to disseminate timely information, as it becomes available to us. It is no secret that our union has not always seen eye-to-eye with the USPS, but this unprecedented attack has been met with an equally unprecedented level of cooperation.
We have been forced to rethink the way we move our mail. Serving more than 130 million delivery points six days a week requires a massive and expensive infrastructure - an infrastructure that will largely have to be revamped in the coming months. Our members have learned the hard way that they have to look for new threats, and that the country is relying on them for protection. I have great admiration for all of our members, especially those at the Brentwood facility here in Washington and in West Trenton. I am extremely proud of the letter carriers there for the way they have responded during this crisis. The New Jersey letter carriers are casing their mail in tents next to the building where they normally work. They have told me that they are proud to carry on with their work as a way of demonstrating their resolve and to send a strong signal to the thugs who perpetrated this crime against our nation.
Every day for the last two weeks, we have gathered with the other postal employee organizations and the Postmaster General at postal headquarters to obtain and share the latest developments. We have heard from the CDC, law enforcement and executive branch agencies in our efforts to understand the full magnitude of this situation. In addition to the videotape and other materials that have been distributed from postal headquarters, we at the letter carriers have been working diligently to disseminate information to our members. We have been regularly updating our website with the latest information, our "NALC Bulletin" is distributed and posted in 13,000 postal facilities and we have been communicating with our National Business Agents through our Intranet.
Last week, I (NALC President Vince Sombrotto) had the high privilege of meeting in the Oval Office with President Bush, Governor Ridge and Postmaster General Potter. The White House committed $175 million to deal with the immediate response, such as testing and the distribution of antibiotics, masks and gloves. The Postal Service is also using $200 million from its own security fund. However, there are still enormous expenses to be met, and the Postal Service will be seeking the $2.5 billion in funds necessary to obtain and install equipment to sanitize the mail. These are funds that would go towards the purchase of machines through which mail at all processing facilities would pass to be "cleansed" of biological agents. This would prevent the transmission of Anthrax, Smallpox and other infections through the mail. In addition to the actual purchase of the machines, each facility will need to be retrofitted to accommodate the new equipment and to ensure that employees are trained to operate them safely.
It is important to note that the Postal Service is a self-funded entity and does not receive an appropriation. However, remember Congress does owe the Postal Service $957 million under the Revenue Forgone Reform Act of 1993. Rather than being paid $29 million a year over 42 years as is written into that act, the Postal Service needs the full amount now. Even that amount represents only a portion of the revenue lost as a result of the recent events.
These last couple of weeks have exacted a toll on our members and the Postal Service itself. Restoring the confidence of postal employees and the American public is of the utmost importance, not just for our national psyche, but because the Postal Service is an integral part of this country's economic infrastructure. Individuals and businesses rely on the Postal Service to receive and pay bills and securely send original documents. Keeping that system up and running is absolutely essential. Going days without mail exacts an extraordinary price. For example, one utility company in the DC area has reported that they normally receive 30,000 payments through the mail each day. This is just one isolated example of what the mail means to our economy. It is incumbent upon us -- to whatever extent possible -- to make sure that such economic disruption is not visited upon other areas of the country. We also need to keep some level of perspective on the situation. Thus far we have been relatively fortunate that the tragic events of the last few weeks seem to have been limited to relatively small geographic areas. We also need to be vigilant, because if these evil doers spread their poison elsewhere in the country, the result could be exponentially worse than it has been to this point.
I'd also like to note, Mr. Chairman, that this disaster has further highlighted the shortcomings of the 30-year-old law governing the postal service. Simply put, the Postal Service needs greater flexibility, not just when disaster strikes, but on a daily basis.
Each year the NALC honors our heroes of the year, and letter carriers never cease to amaze me by demonstrating what they are capable of doing when they are confronted with adverse situations. Now every letter carrier must display that same type of heroism. They are the first line of protection for a large segment of the American population. I know they are up to the task, but they also have to have the tools to take on this new challenge.
Mr. Chairman, I wish to thank you and the members of this committee for your concern during this difficult time.
Too often the work that we do goes unnoticed. In many ways, that serves as a silent tribute to the members of the NALC. Now that the times have called for a more vocal expression of support, I'm glad that you all are speaking up. Thank you.