The economic crisis caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has stricken not only countless businesses but the U.S. Postal Service as well. Due to the pandemic, it is estimated that mail volume and revenue may drop by 50% or more in the coming months. The Postal Service has advised Congress that it will run out of cash by the end of September unless Congress and the administration provide financial assistance to get it through the COVID-19 crisis.
Established in 1775, the year before our country was formed, the post office is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution. It is the nation’s only truly universal delivery and communications network, connecting 160 million homes and businesses in every corner of the country six days a week.
The USPS, with 640,000 employees, is among the country’s largest employers — and the largest civilian employer of veterans.
The USPS handles 40% of the world’s mail, providing American citizens and businesses the most affordable and efficient delivery services. Since the early 1980s the USPS has operated without the use of tax dollars, relying solely on revenue from postage and other postal products. Survey results released by the Pew Research Center in early April named the Postal Service as the highest-rated federal agency with a 91% favorability rating.
Postal services and post offices are particularly critical to rural areas, small towns, the elderly, military veterans and millions of small and medium-sized businesses.
The USPS is also essential to the political and cultural life of America, delivering hundreds of millions of magazines and weekly newspapers each year, plus billions of business-related and personal communications. It routinely handles tens of millions of ballots delivered to voters who request absentee ballots or who live in states that conduct elections by mail.
The USPS also plays an important role in the health care system, handling 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments a year — nearly 4 million every day, six days a week. The USPS also provides “last-mile” delivery for tens of millions of packages for FedEx, UPS and Amazon.
The universal reach of the postal network is invaluable to all Americans, but especially to those in rural, inner city and exurban areas that would not be served if not for the USPS.
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on March 27 did not provide support for the USPS as it did for airlines ($61 billion), private cargo shippers ($17 billion) and corporations ($425 billion). The exclusion of the USPS was due to opposition from the Trump Administration and a threat of a presidential veto.
The administration’s disdain for the USPS is not new. A 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget report titled, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century” called for the USPS to be sold to private corporations. It appears the COVID-19 pandemic is now being used as a means to aid in this effort.
A privatized USPS without a universal delivery mandate would be devastating. It would focus on profitable areas and either not provide service or charge exorbitant rates elsewhere.
The Postal Service’s financial problems before the coronavirus pandemic were largely caused by 2006 legislation requiring USPS to pre-fund future retiree pension and health benefits 75 years into the future. This is a requirement no other agency or company is forced to meet. Absent this law the USPS would have realized a profit in a majority of the years since 2006.
The USPS must have support from the next stimulus bill. The pandemic-induced loss of revenue facing the USPS is no less dramatic than for airlines and other corporations. The Postal Service needs the same level of assistance.
The Postal Board of Governors, comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, has unanimously called upon Congress for $89 billion in funding to stabilize a service that affects millions of American households and businesses.
Postal workers are in harm’s way on the front line of this pandemic continuing to serve the American public. Postmaster General Megan Brennan said during an appeal for funding that postal workers “provide an essential public service and bind the nation together.” As of this writing, over 1,200 postal workers have tested positive for coronavirus, thousands are quarantined and 44 have died.
The USPS, held in high regard by the public, is a national treasure providing a vital service for the past 245 years. All of us, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, must stand together and demand that Washington protect it.
Cathy Hanson is a retired postal worker and editor for the Minneapolis Area Local, American Postal Workers Union. (More information at usmailnotforsale.org.)