Last month, US Postal Service workers delivered “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America” to households across the country. But Trump, of course, has no interest in helping the agency he relied on to get out his message and feels no patriotic duty to support postal workers who are on the front lines of essential service delivery during the coronavirus pandemic, putting their own health at risk to supply all Americans with medicine, supplies, and information.
Instead, the Trump administration has a long-range plan to privatize the Postal Service. In the meantime, the president wrongly blames longstanding financial problems on a package delivery deal the US Postal Service has with Amazon.
That leaves any rescue plan up to Congress. Unless lawmakers step in, the Trump administration and a drop in mail volume connected to COVID-19 just might accomplish what the Internet threatened to do: kill a universal delivery service that traces its roots back to the birth of this nation.
In 1775, members of the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster general. After that, Article 1 of the US Constitution empowered Congress to establish post offices, which evolved into the US Postal Service. Universal delivery — the idea that everyone in the country would be linked together by dependable mail service — was considered essential to the free flow of information.
Of course, times have changed dramatically since then. The US Postal Service lost business over the years, as personal letter-writing was overtaken by electronic communication — which has also put dents in common business communications like billing and payments. The agency also bears the burden of a huge pension liability, due to a congressional mandate that it pre-fund its benefit obligations. But the concept of universal delivery is still important in this country, especially in rural areas. Postal workers deliver medicines, packages ordered online, and communications from the government — including Trump’s coronavirus guidelines. Voting by mail could also play a role in November’s presidential election, as the contagion forces states to explore alternatives to in-person balloting.
Today, the rapid drop in mail volume connected to the coronavirus could be “catastrophic” to that agency, Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, told New Hampshire Public Radio. With business advertising halted, mail volume could drop as much as 60 percent by the end of the year, he said.
Last year, the US Postal Service reported an $8.8 billion loss. According to The New York Times, the Postal Service is projecting a $13 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year and predicts $54 billion in losses over 10 years. To offset those grim numbers, the Postal Service is asking lawmakers to support an $89 billion relief package. However, the Trump administration is fighting that request, and some Republican lawmakers are resisting it, too.
At a recent press conference, Trump said the Postal Service “is losing billions of dollars, and the taxpayers are paying for that money because it delivers packages for Amazon at a very below cost.” He wants the agency to raise prices on Amazon package delivery — a push that some see as punishment aimed at Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, which often publishes articles that are critical of Trump.
“At the end of the day, they have an agenda,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told the Times. “Raise prices, reduce worker benefits and reduce service, make it appear more profitable and set it up for sale.” Added Dimondstein: “The COVID crisis should not be used to achieve political aims.”
He’s right. The millions of Americans holed up at home and relying on delivery are getting a fresh reminder of just how vital a mail system that reaches all Americans remains. Trump has now threatened to veto any stimulus package that includes funding to shore up the agency. Congress should call his bluff, and do what it takes to save the US Postal Service or make the president pay the political consequences of signing its death warrant.
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