The words "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" have long been associated with U.S. Postal Service’s workers. The Postal Service has its historical roots in the 1775 Second Continental Congress and its first postmaster general was Benjamin Franklin. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly referred to in the U.S. Constitution.
Why was the post service so important? It was, and is, the way the public communicated. It was, and is, an important tool for commerce. And it had to work and work well consistently, like the motto says.
In addition to delivering the mail, for years the Post Office also acted as a small bank. From 1911 to 1967, the Postal Service also operated the United States Postal Savings System, not unlike a savings and loan association with the amount of the deposit limited. For many Americans who lacked access to a bank, it was a way to cash checks.
Since the 1980s, there has been an ongoing effort to privatize the Postal Service and those efforts have resulted with an agency often in debt, despite its important duties.
And so, despite the Postal Service’s record of delivering the mail despite while contending with Mother Nature, World Wars, a Great Depression and now a pandemic, the system is teetering on the brink because of the efforts of the President and his allies to eliminate this vital service.
The Postal Service warned Congress recently that it will completely "run out of cash" in the next several months without immediate action from the White House and Congress. Despite as many as 630,000 jobs at risk, President Trump and allied lawmakers have refused to commit to rescuing the government institution as it falters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The President has thus far rejected the Postal Service's requests. During a press briefing recently, the President urged the Postal Service to simply "raise the prices by, actually a lot."
According to the Washington Post, "Trump threatened to veto the $2.2 trillion [stimulus] Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act if the legislation contained any money directed to bail out the postal agency.”
The New York Times also reported that a bailout for the Postal Service "emerged as a political sticking point" in talks over another large coronavirus stimulus package, "with Democrats pressing to deliver one and President Trump, a persistent critic of the agency, opposed."
House Democrats pushed for a $25 billion cash infusion for the Postal Service as part of the last stimulus package, but Senate negotiators ultimately opted to include only a $10 billion line of credit. Postal management has said that amount would be insufficient for preventing fiscal calamity this year.
That $10 billion loan is now being used by the President as a way to leverage changes to dramatically alter the way the system operates or possibly force it into bankruptcy.
Why keep the Postal Service? Many of us are now working from home, postal workers are the ones who bring many of our packages to our front doors. And in rural and hard-to-reach areas, postal workers are the only ones who provide regular delivery service because there’s not enough money in it for private courier businesses. Postal delivery is the only way many Americans can get their essential medications or pension checks — and in some states, ballots to cast their votes.
It may be that last service that explains why the Trump Administration is so forcefully attacking the Postal Service. The President has said that allowing voters to cast their ballots through the mail makes it harder for Republicans to get elected – even though it is a far safer way to vote during a pandemic. There’s nothing inherently partisan about voting by the mail, but apparently the President sees a threat in making it easier to vote for American citizens who are anxious about going to a polling site.
Irrespective of that highly suspect political concern, the Congress must do exactly what should be done for the nation’s most essential services in times of emergency. It should properly fund the Postal Service to support it in normal times and to ensure it’s ready for extraordinary times like now.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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