When it comes to representing rural Michigan, Congressman John Moolenaar knows well where he stands.
Moolenaar, R-Midland, is the representative of the 4th District, which includes Montcalm County (minus Greenville), as well as Gratiot, Isabella and Mecosta counties, among others.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 4th District is the second-most rural district in the state, second only to the 1st District, which contains the entirety of the Upper Peninsula.
That statistic leaves Moolenaar with a responsibility to understand issues as they pertain to his rural constituents, a cause that saw him visiting the Edmore Post Office on Monday.
Moolenaar accepted an invitation to ride along with Doug Bartlett, an Edmore mail carrier and president of the Michigan Rural Letter Carriers’ Association.
“Most of us experience the mail, just getting it based at our homes. But there’s a variety of ways our citizens across the state receive their mail,” Moolenaar said. “The post office has to adapt to different communities and scenarios, and this (ride along) helps me understand the importance of adapting, and also serving our rural communities. It’s an opportunity to see first-hand the unique aspects of rural mail carriers.”
Bartlett stressed the importance of preserving six-day mail delivery.
“Delivering mail six days a week remains a critical competitive advantage for the USPS (United States Postal Service), especially in rural areas where small business and livelihoods are dependent on six-day mail delivery,” Bartlett said. “Past attempts have been made to reduce delivery frequency by either an arbitrary volume trigger or by allowing the postal service to immediately reduce delivery frequency outright.”
House Resolution 15, introduced in January, aims to express “the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States Postal Service should take all appropriate measures to ensure the continuation of its six-day mail delivery service.” The bill’s origin references a USPS announcement that the organization may need to reduce the frequency of its mail delivery service from six days to five days per week.
But according to Bartlett, eliminating six-day mail delivery would cut as many as 50,000 rural letter carrier jobs. In combating billions in revenue losses, Bartlett said the association has been struggling to get a bill passed in congress aimed to reform the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006.
The Act requires the postal service to make annual payments of more than $5 billion from 2007 to 2016 to finance the retiree health benefits fund from 2017 onward.
With the recession that occurred in 2007, mail delivery dropped significantly, and the pre-funding schedule has accounted for about 90 percent of the postal service’s losses since pre-funding began.
“Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future … and no other agency or corporation is required to pre-fund future retiree health benefits, let alone to fully pre-fund in just 10 years,” Bartlett said. “Hopefully we can get some congressional help.
CHERRY HEALTH TOUR
Moolenaar also spent time Monday touring Cherry Health in Greenville, a federally qualified health center.
As a member of the Committee on Appropriations, and Health and Human Services, Education and Labor Subcommittee, Moolenaar said the debate about health care is one that sits at the top of his list.
“Funding for different health care initiatives will go through (those committees),” he said. “We’re talking a lot about health care reform and policy decisions being made, and it’s really helpful to see things being done on a first-hand basis.”
The Greenville facility offers medical, dental, vision and counseling services, through reimbursement designation from the Bureau of Primary Health Care, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But according to Cherry Health Chief External Relations Officer Mike Reagan, continued funding for such services could be in doubt.
“Come Sept. 30, 70 percent of that funding evaporates, unless Congress takes action,” he said. “It’s a fiscal cliff.”
Reagan described Cherry Health, which has a primary focus of providing high-quality health services to those who have little or no access to healthcare, regardless of income or insurance status, as a “safety net” for many members of the community.
“That’s what is at risk if that funding isn’t secured,” he said. “25 percent of who we serve are uninsured.”
Moolenaar said despite a recent attempt to pass the American Health Care Act — a Republican-sponsored replacement plan for the current Affordable Care Act, which never went to the floor for a vote — work continues to be done to reform the health care system.
“I tend to believe, like many do, that the current system (Affordable Care Act) is not sustainable long term. So we need to find a better way to approach it,” he said. “Having said that, we want to make sure we’re recognizing the good work that is being done here. Whatever reforms we do, we want to make sure we are protecting people and making the most of these advances that you have made here.”
According to Moolenaar, health facilities such as Cherry Health have not been forgotten in ongoing discussions.
“Federally qualified health centers are held in very high esteem in Congress,” he said. “People have different opinions on things such as Planned Parenthood, but the one thing that’s been very clear throughout this debate is that services federal qualified health centers are providing are essential and valuable. Many would rather see funding that maybe goes to different entities, such as planned parenthood, go to federal qualified health centers.”