Postmaster general considers bringing budget axe down on Alaska’s Bypass Mail

Screenshot of Louis DeJoy with the insignia of the Postal Service behind him.
A screenshot of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy during a C-SPAN broadcast during a U.S. Senate committee hearing on Friday, August 21.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says he’s considering cutting Alaska’s Bypass Mail program to save money.

”Take the Alaska Bypass plan discussion. That’s an an item on the table. That’s an unfunded mandate. It costs us like $500 million a year,” DeJoy told the Senate Homeland Security Committee Friday. “What I asked for was all the unfunded mandates. That’s a way for us to get healthy. Pay something for the unfunded mandates.”

Bypass Mail is a program that has subsidized cargo shipments to rural Alaska since 1972. It allows delivery of consumer goods and groceries to small communities at parcel-post rates. The palletized shipments bypass all postal facilities and go directly to the air carriers. 

It’s not clear why DeJoy said the program cost $500 million annually. In recent years, Bypass Mail has been a $100 million program. The rural customer – typically a store, restaurant or school district – pays about a third of that and the Postal Service makes up the difference.

Alaska’s congressional delegation says the program is a lifeline for rural Alaska. They say it actually saves the postal service money, because the goods don’t go through post offices.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan says he’s met with postal officials to make the case and he will again.

“A lot of these guys don’t understand it,” Sullivan said. “And, you know, the geographic reality of Alaska requires the postal service to deliver mail by air in order to meet its universal service obligation. Period!”

A 2013 study of Bypass Mail commissioned by the state Department of Transportation found that potable liquids – like milk, soft drinks and water – account for about 40% of the volume of Bypass Mail. Building materials and heavy items such as boat motors aren’t allowed.

DeJoy has raised alarm nationwide with proposals that cut costs and reduce service. Last week he said he won’t make any further changes until after the election, to allay concerns that he’s trying to sabotage voting by mail to help President Trump get re-elected.

DeJoy testified Friday that he’s trying to close a large budget gap.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said lumber is among the products sent to rural Alaska by Bypass Mail. Construction materials aren’t allowed.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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