With just under two weeks to go until Tax Day (remember, it’s April 17 this year), the U.S. Postal Service expects to be busy. While more taxpayers are opting to e-file their returns, computers haven’t completely replaced paper returns, especially since some forms and returns (like amended returns for individual taxpayers) cannot be filed electronically and must be mailed. When it comes to paper, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers a tax return filed on time if it is correctly addressed, has enough postage and is postmarked by the due date.
(You can find the hours for a post office near you here.)
But if you think the government is pocketing your postage at tax time while they’re depositing your tax payment, you’d be wrong. Despite the fact that we think that the Post Office is a government agency, it’s not… exactly. By statute, the U.S. Post Office is an “independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States. So while the Post Office is privileged under U.S. law (it has a monopoly on the delivery of first-class mail, for example), it’s not technically run by the government nor is it funded by taxpayers. In fact, the Postal Service hasn’t received federal subsidies from taxpayers for more than 30 years (with limited exceptions related to voting).
The U.S. Postal Service has been around longer than the IRS. It was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by Benjamin Franklin, who was also named the first Postmaster General. You can still have your letters postmarked “B. Free Franklin” by hand in Franklin’s post office located at 3rd and Market – and take a tour while you’re at it.
If you recall that there was a postal service before the United States won its independence, you’re not wrong. But the U.S. Postal Service as we know it today was authorized by the U.S. Constitution at Article I, Section 8, which says, in part:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…
To establish post offices and post roads;
Yes, it’s in the same clause that allows Congress to tax us and to raise an army and a navy.
Congress still has authority over the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations. But while Congress doesn’t fund the post office, they do continue to control the purse strings. By law, the U.S. Postal Service can’t raise the price of stamps more than the rate of inflation without Congressional approval. A first-class stamp will currently cost you 50 cents.
And those stamps add up: The Postal Service has annual revenue of nearly $70 billion. If it were a private sector company, the Postal Service would rank 37th on the 2017 Fortune 500. On the 2017 Global Fortune 500 list, the Postal Service ranked 99th.
For all that I am online these days, I still love to send and receive real mail. I remain impressed that for less than the price of a cup of coffee, I can pop a plain envelope into a box and have confidence, that more often than not, it will be delivered halfway around the world. Last year, the Postal Service delivered my mail – and mail like mine – 149.5 billion times. That works out to 47% of the world’s mail. To make it happen, in 2017, the Postal Service traveled 1.5 billion miles, equivalent to 61,217 laps around Earth, 6,381 trips to the moon or 16 trips to the sun. And it didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.