published Sunday, March 10th, 2013

USPS wrong to destroy children's books

More than 1,000 brand new children's books purchased by Tennessee taxpayers are destroyed and tossed in the garbage every month in the Chattanooga area because of a newly enforced United States Postal Service rule.

Statewide, about 51,000 books sent from the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation as part of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program will be make their way to the trash rather than to a child this year. The discarded books are meant for children from birth to age five to encourage reading, but some never reach their intended recipients -- often because the child's family moves without a forwarding address.

Those undelivered books don't just represent a lost opportunity for children to engage in reading, they represent thousands of wasted tax dollars, as well.

State taxpayers pick up 50 percent of the tab of the Books from Birth program, while local nonprofits, like the United Way, pay the other half of the cost of buying and delivering books. This year, Books from Birth will cost state taxpayers more than $3.4 million.

Since the program costs about $2 per child, per month, the discarded books mean over $100,000 in taxpayer and nonprofit money is squandered annually.

In an effort to keep expenses down, the state-sponsored Imagination Library books are mailed using a low-cost bulk mail postage rate, which doesn't come with return shipping or forwarding services. In the past, the programs' books that were undeliverable were often set aside by post office workers across the state, who would then allow children's charities and community groups to collect and distribute the undeliverable books to needy families.

That all changed in February when the USPS told postal employees in Tennessee they could lose their jobs if they didn't trash the Imagination Library books. The USPS claims the special treatment the books receive is unfair to customers whose packages are thrown away. Additionally, the USPS says, it is an imposition on the postal facilities to have the children's books stacked awaiting pick up by good Samaritans.

In a letter explaining the issue to supporters, Books from Birth president Theresa Carl said "all Tennessee post offices have received written notification that they are not to release these undeliverable books to Imagination Library representatives, with strict consequences for non-compliance of this ruling."

The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle first unearthed this issue when a reporter discovered that more than 70 books a month that were previously collected by workers at the Clarksville Post Office and given to volunteer organizations are now shredded.

The problem is much worse in Chattanooga.

Jan Brooks, the Project Ready for School Coordinator at the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, said her organization redistributed 10,420 unused Imagination Library books collected by Chattanooga area postal workers last year.

Now, since the USPS has barred postal employees from setting the books aside for the United Way, the books that Brooks and her volunteers were giving to children when they visited a health clinic or when their parents enrolled in WIC are thrown away instead.

The biggest tragedy is that the low-income children who could most benefit from the Imagination Library are the ones least likely to receive them, since they are most likely to move without a forwarding address. Kind-hearted post office workers and organizations like the United Way worked across the state to help address that problem by passing out undeliverable Imagination Library books to some of the state's most disadvantaged preschoolers until the USPS issued its heartless dictate.

Carl points out that the foundation updates its mailing list monthly based on forwarding lists she receives from the post office. Still, she figures that 2 percent of the 2.55 million books that Books from Birth sends out annually through Imagination Library will be destroyed -- and there's little that can be done to prevent that if postal workers aren't allowed to save those 51,000 books.

The USPS should reassess its callous decision to prevent postal employees from rescuing children's books and get them to families who need them.

An act of compassion shouldn't be a fireable offense.

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BigRidgePatriot said...

I have been periodically testing the USPS verses UPS and Fed Ex over the last 3 years and have been quite consistently disappointed with the USPS. This article makes me wonder why I give the USPS a chance... sometimes marginally lower rates but always a trip to the post office to pick up packages. Enough is enough... private package delivery for me from here on out.

March 10, 2013 at 12:59 a.m.
fairmon said...

Perhaps it is time for a cost/beneift analysis of the tax payer funded program. Another option is to pay the postage necessary to have undeliverable mailings returned. Congress imposes many duties on the USPS that prohibits their competitiveness with private services. The USPS is required to provide services to remote areas not serviced by private services at the same cost (stamps etc.) as everyone pays, more share the wealth government mentiality. Remove those restraints and allow the USPS to sink or swim on their own.

March 10, 2013 at 6:06 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

This not the fault of USPS. It would just as likely happened if the books were delievered by UPS, FedEx or some other source. How were the delivery rules marked on the books? Do not forward? Do not return?

Granted maybe USPS could have sought ways to just give the books away to customers or others entering the building by placing them on a table inside their facility. However, that may have conflicted with federal postal regulations and gotten them into deeper trouble with the federal government.

I'm not sure why all of a sudden everyone seems to be beating up on the U.S. Postal Service. Maybe you're trying to lessen the competition for some other delivery service. This same beating up on USPS actually happened several decades ago, when another company complained they couldn't compete with USPS and break even. I think that's what this, going after USPS, is basically all about. Getting rid of the stiff competition.

March 10, 2013 at 9:41 a.m.
Plato said...

I have an idea. Let's use free market forces to solve the problem instead of the wasteful big government post office. Have the state start sending out the books by UPS or Federal Express. I'm sure they will be happy to stack up undeliverable children's books in their facilities for free and wait for good Samaritans to pick them up and distribute them.

March 10, 2013 at 9:56 a.m.
rick1 said...

TirnaNOG, you must be a postal worker. The fact is the USPS loses billions of dollars every year and the only reason they are still in existence is because Congress funds them, and UPS and FED Ex are making money without any help from the government. It is obvious the USPS is the one that is not competitive and can not make it without the help of the government.

March 10, 2013 at 10:06 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

You'd be wrong, rick1. However, I have worked for the federal government and I know how rules and regulations work. Even for the private sector. UPS and FedEX receive federal funding and other federal subsidies too. The only reason USPS is now operating in the red is because when Bush was in office he set rules where they would have to fund their retirement program annually into the billions. Republicans were setting USPS up then to fail. Maybe because they have stock options in those other delivery services you mentioned. Do you really believe that if USPS went out of service today, you'd still be able to mail a letter for as little as less than fifty cents? Do you really think UPS and FedEx could or would delivery your mail cheaper? Did you know that UPS and FedEx rely heavily on the USPS to make deliveries where they simply refuse to go? You should stop listening to those Tea Party talking heads and learn to think for yourself.

March 10, 2013 at 10:48 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Indeed. FEDEX and USP use post offices in many rural areas, especially out west. If they had to deliver to all those tiny ranch towns they would go broke or have to charge much higher fees.

March 10, 2013 at 10:58 a.m.
rick1 said...

TirnaNOG, you forgot to mention the union contract the postal workers and how labor costs represent 80% of USPS expenses, a very high percentage in this day of automation. The agreement protects APWU employees against layoffs and provide a 3.5 percent wage increase over the life of the contract.

All federal funding and subsidies should end including those for both oil companies and green energy companies.

Since the the USPS has tax exempt status, guarantees from the treasury and has a legal monopoly on delivery of letter mail, making competition with the Postal Service a criminal offense how can you make the comment that Fed Ex and UPS are afraid of competition. This is not a level playing field.

Most people are using computers to send letters and pay bills and the drop in customer service shows this occurring. This is the biggest challenge for the USPS in the future.

March 10, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.
LibDem said...

The USPS is costly to maintain but a venerable institution. The last time I checked, the Pentagon's profit margin was dismal.

March 10, 2013 at 1:10 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

rick1 said... TirnaNOG, you forgot to mention the union contract the postal workers and how labor costs represent 80% of USPS expenses, a very high percentage in this day of automation. The agreement protects APWU employees against layoffs and provide a 3.5 percent wage increase over the life of the contract.

You speak as if that's a bad thing. It's not. You'd have to have been born and realize what life was like before Unions were formed to protect the average workers. Even non Union workers have benefitted from Unions. If you're really serious about going after Unions, you should go after the Federation of Unionized Prison Guards. On of the largets in the U.S. and around the world.

rick1 said...All federal funding and subsidies should end including those for both oil companies and green energy companies

You say that now, until you're personally affected by the outcome. Then it's people like you who scream the loudest about why the federal government isn't intervening on your behalf.

rick1 said... Since the the USPS has tax exempt status, guarantees from the treasury and has a legal monopoly on delivery of letter mail, making competition with the Postal Service a criminal offense how can you make the comment that Fed Ex and UPS are afraid of competition. This is not a level playing field.

they all have some form of federal subsidizing in the way of tax breaks and other loopholes. Hmmmmm, but are you actually making a confession in the comment? This is all about getting rid of the competition after all?

Most people are using computers to send letters and pay bills and the drop in customer service shows this occurring. This is the biggest challenge for the USPS in the future.

And there are equally most who still rely on snail mail deliveries. You may can order something through the Itnernet but, last I checked, the Internet still cant physically deliver a package and certain other materials of any kind, even some confidential letters. Because the Internet is stil to far unsecure.

March 10, 2013 at 7:40 p.m.
acerigger said...

TirnaNOG, you're arguing with a fence post! See,the USPS has ties to the Federal Govt.,which has ties to Pres. Obama,which as we know is the root of all that's wrong in the good ol' USA! LOL!

March 10, 2013 at 11:02 p.m.
fairmon said...

The federal government imposes and legislates that the USPS do many things but they will not allow them to charge an adequate no profit fee for those services. The principle should be user pays. You elect to live in the out back and want mail service then pay to have it picked up and delivered to that remote area. Do away with the franking priveleges of congress. The unions have attained work rules and restrictions that prevent efficienvy improvements. Insisting on Saturday delivery is a crock, why is three days per week, M-W-F, delivery not adequate?

March 11, 2013 at midnight
fairmon said...

The error here is the assumption that the program is working a high percent of time, that the effort is making a difference consistent with the cost. Every program initiated with good intent does not always achieve the objective, this is most likely one of those. No doubt examples of success can be cited but what is the cost per actual verifiable success? Could that success be achieved with schools and libraries participating?

March 11, 2013 at 12:05 a.m.
gypsylady said...

So am I to understand that only the USPS is unionized? Not Fed Ex or UPS? Tell that to the Fed Ex pilots and watch 'em laugh. I believe UPS also has unions.

March 11, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.
debbie1031 said...

My question is how much are they paying to "shred" the books? As a librarian I object to the destruction of books (other than pornography). I understand they can't store the books indefinitely but if they were picked up on a regular basis, why not stay with that route. IF it's because of regulation, regulation needs to be changed. Another question I have is how does the USPS deal with forwarding addresses? In today's computer age they can't get a forwarding address from their own system? What do they do with all the other mail that goes to those without forwarding addresses? I know "regulation" because the sender didn't pay for that service. Well destroying that much property should be against "regulation" because it's just plain wrong! Another case of America killing itself from within.

March 12, 2013 at 1:28 p.m.
fairmon said...

gypsylady said...

So am I to understand that only the USPS is unionized? Not Fed Ex or UPS? Tell that to the Fed Ex pilots and watch 'em laugh. I believe UPS also has unions

They are all unionized but the for profits didn't give in to unreasable demands and to work rules akin to feather bedding. people at UPS and FEDX aren't public employees supported by politicians.

March 13, 2013 at 8:45 a.m.
chatt_man said...

President Obama can't be the problem, acerigger, we already read earlier (in TurnaNOG's post) it was George Bush's fault, and I'd have to wonder how the 80% labor costs, if that's correct, compares to the UPS and Fed-Ex labor cost.

March 13, 2013 at 12:11 p.m.
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