News & information

Legislative Update: August 1, 2014

Senate considers Postal Board of Governors nominations

On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) addressed several issues in its final business meeting before Congress’ August recess, including the pending nominations of four Postal Board of Governors members. The nominees are James Miller III, Stephen Crawford, Michael Bennett and Victoria Kennedy.

Although these are technically “presidential nominees,” it is established practice that the Senate majority and minority leaders choose from their parties board nominees whom the president then formally nominates.

Consideration of the appointees kicked off on July 14, when HSGAC held a hearing to allow each nominee to testify on a wide range of postal reform topics, including various elements of S. 1486, HSGAC Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ranking Member Tom Coburn’s postal bill. Nominees shed some light on their positions regarding six-day mail delivery, mail service standards, mail processing plants, pricing, innovation and Medicare integration.

However, based on the responses nominees provided during the hearing, the NALC is still unclear on the positions of two of the nominees.

To ensure that letter carriers’ concerns are considered, NALC President Fredric Rolando submitted a letter to Sen. Carper and Coburn to express our views on the nominees.

Of particular concern is Miller, a Republican appointee who is seeking a second term to the board. Miller now serves on the board of the American National Standards Institute, and he represents trade associations and corporate interests such as Apple, Exxon Mobil and Verizon. During Miller’s previous tenure on the board, he led a drive to contract out postal jobs and to decrease services.

As for Kennedy, the NALC has indicated its support for her nomination based on her responses and their consistency with our priorities.

For the two remaining nominees, Crawford and Bennett, the NALC will seek additional information to ascertain whether their views support the mission of letter carriers.

It was expected that the nominees would have been confirmed prior to the August recess, but objections were raised over some of the nominees, most pointedly Miller. In turn, political maneuvering seems to have placed an indefinite hold on the block of nominees.

We will keep you posted on any activity or information regarding the nominees or on any movement in the process.

Postal banking bill introduced in House

On July 15, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced the Providing Opportunities for Savings, Transactions and Lending Act (POSTAL) Act, H.R. 5179, to allow USPS to offer basic financial services, including checking accounts, interest-bearing savings accounts and money transfers, and to allow the Postal Service to partner with private banks to offer these services. In addition, the legislation would create a “Postal Card” that would serve as a debit card for postal banking customers.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), nearly 68 million adults either do not have access to basic banking options or have access to limited services, a situation that often leads them to use payday lenders who can charge exorbitant interest rates.

“In the New Orleans area alone,” Richmond said, “181,000 households do not have access to a full range of financial services. These are primarily low-income households that are forced to pay exorbitant interest rates to predatory lenders in order to borrow. Allowing the Post Office to offer some basic financial services would save these households thousands of dollars every year, and put the USPS on more stable financial footing.”

“The NALC appreciates the efforts of members like Rep. Cedric Richmond, who are thinking outside of the box by seeking alternative ways for the Postal Service to serve the public that serve to strengthen the agency,” President Rolando said. “We think this legislation is a positive first step in finding that balance.”

‘Wounded warriors’ bill introduced in House

On Tuesday, House Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and U.S. Postal Service Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Ranking Member Stephen Lynch (D-MA), along with House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), introduced the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act, H.R. 5229.

If passed, this bill would give newly hired postal and federal employees who are also disabled veterans 104 hours of leave time to seek medical treatment for their service-related disabilities during their first year in the workforce. The bill also would prevent such workers from being forced to take unpaid leave to keep medical appointments.

Under current law, full-time federal employees accrue four hours of sick leave for each bi-weekly pay period, for a maximum of 104 hours, or 13 days, of annual sick leave. However, federal employees in their first year on the job begin their federal government careers with a zero sick-leave balance. As a result, disabled veterans who have recently entered the federal workforce often do not have sufficient sick leave accrued to allow them to seek regular treatment for their service-connected disabilities.

Under H.R. 5229, first-year employees with a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or greater would be given 104 hours of leave to obtain medical treatment for their disabilities. Employees also would submit certification to their agencies in accordance with Office of Personnel Management guidelines. (The legislation does not allow for any portion of the 104 hours to be carried over to the following year.)

“The lack of initial sick leave for new federal workers places a significant burden on our disabled veterans during their first year of federal employment,” Lynch said. “Our ‘wounded warrior’ federal employees who are just starting out in the federal workforce are often faced with the difficult choice of having to take unpaid leave to attend their V.A. appointments or miss their medical visits. This act provides vital federal leave for our heroic and dedicated wounded warriors so that they are able to take the time they need to address their disabilities, while continuing their much appreciated service to our country,” added Lynch.

The NALC is proud to endorse this legislation and encourages members to voice their support when meeting with members of Congress.

One hurdle remains for Sombrotto Post Office naming

Today, the Senate approved H.R. 2291, the bill to rename Manhattan’s Grand Central Station Post Office after former NALC President Vincent R. Sombrotto.

Earlier this week, the bill handily passed the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs (HSGAC) as well.

Following the House’s approval of the measure in early July, HSGAC took swift action after it received a joint letter from New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “Naming this post office after Vincent Sombrotto would be a fitting tribute to honor his memory,” the letter said. “We are proud to offer our support for this bill.”

“With so many legislative fights on our hands,” President Rolando said, “it’s refreshing to see that Congress can put together so much momentum to honor an extraordinary leader like Vince.”

The final hurdle will be for President Obama sign the bill into law. Stay tuned…

Recess is the best!

Today, the House and Senate will head home until after Labor Day, returning on Sept. 8. At this writing, the House was still in session to deal with some unfinished business, but it was expected to recess before the weekend.

As you know, recesses are ideal times to for letter carriers to reconnect with their members of Congress in representatives’ district offices or at local events, to keep our issues front and center.

Keeping the conversation going is critical as we work to frame the debate about the Postal Service on Capitol Hill.

Please let your House and Senate representatives know about pertinent legislation and encourage their support for the bills outlined above.