Will the U.S. Postal Service Be Another Casualty of COVID-19?

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS), like many businesses, has been hit severely hard by COVID-19. Already financially struggling pre-pandemic, the rapid decline in the volume of mail and pressure from President Trump has made it that much more difficult situation for the agency. 

Postal Service workers are on the frontline

Of the U.S. Postal Service’s 630,000 employees, more than 3,420 have tested positive for COVID-19, and some have died working to get mail to Americans  and their loved ones. 

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers,” reads the motto of the U.S. Postal Service.

“A lot of businesses have ceased to do advertising through the mail,” says Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., “and as a result, mail volume has collapsed.”

The American Postal Workers Union said mail volumes have plummeted as much as 30 percent since the pandemic.

Connolly said the decline could be as much as 60 percent by the end of the year, which he says would be “catastrophic” for the agency.

Trump’s attempt to derail the Postal Service

President Trump is taking this crisis as an opportunity for a full-scale dismantling of America’s most popular government agency. Despite the fact that the Postal Service consistently ranks as the nation’s favorite federal agency, the president is determined to eliminate the agency. 

Pew Research Center polling in March found that 91 percent of Americans favor the agency

Speaking to reporters, Trump threatened to not to support the Postal Service and revoke the $10 billion in loans to the agency agreed to in one of the financial rescue packages — unless it quadruples prices.

Many experts suspect President Trump’s determination to rid the U.S. of the Postal Service has to do with the Presidential election. He has made a series of claims about potential voter fraud after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced an effort to expand mail-in voting in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

These claims are unsubstantiated, according to CNN, the Washington Post and others. Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud. 

Mail ballots affect USPS

A dramatic shift in many states to voting by mail is intended to protect voters from spreading the virus at polling places. But it’s also making more work for post offices and contributing to delays in determining election winners.

Election results have been delayed this week in Kentucky and New York because both states were overwhelmed by huge increases in mail ballots.

President Donald Trump opposes expanding voting by mail, asserting it will trigger fraud, even though there’s no evidence that will happen. Trump and many of his administration’s leading voices frequently vote absentee themselves.

Will the Postal Service stay afloat?

The budget concern prior to the pandemic stemmed from a 2006 law requiring the agency to fully fund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. In addition, unlike FedEx and UPS, the U.S. Postal Service cannot refuse to make costly deliveries to especially hard-to-reach addresses.

The Postal Service has always operated without taxpayer funds, however, with its loss of $4.5 billion in the 2020 budget year’s second quarter, that might have to change. 

Congress approved a $10 billion line of credit for the agency as part of a COVID-19 economic rescue package in March. Since then, though, the Postal Service and the Treasury Department have had discussions about extending those loans.

It remains unclear what was negotiated between the postal agency and the Trump administration to secure that loan extension, but Trump has made his feelings more than clear. “The Postal Service is a joke,” Trump said.  

“If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything,” Trump said, asserting that the USPS should raise the price of package delivery “four times.”

Arguments for USPS financial aid

The $2 trillion emergency bill approved by Congress last month included a $10 billion loan for the Postal Service, but Connolly, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, says that’s not what the agency needs.

Trump has acknowledged larger political calculations are at work, tweeting that expanding vote by mail will “LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY.”  Joe Biden, on the other hand, has suggested that Trump’s opposition to absentee voting and criticism of the Postal Service may help the incumbent “steal” the election.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 200,000-plus employees, said the administration is “shamefully trying to use the crisis to carry out an agenda” of privatization, which would ultimately “break up the Postal Service and sell it.”

The Postal Service predates the United States. It was created by the Second Continental Congress in July 1775, and Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general.

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