Republicans are using the Coronavirus crisis to kill the U.S. Postal Service


Update to If Republicans succeed in killing the U.S. Postal Service, there will be no mail voting.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” — only hostile Republicans who want to kill the U.S. Postal Service can accomplish this.

The New York Times today reports, Coronavirus Is Threatening One of Government’s Steadiest Services: The Mail:

Ravaged by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States Postal Service appealed to lawmakers on Thursday for an $89 billion lifeline, telling them that it could run out of cash by the end of September if Congress fails to act.

But as Washington begins to debate the next round of government relief to prop up the virus-plagued economy, a Postal Service bailout has already emerged as a political sticking point, with Democrats pressing to deliver one and President Trump, a persistent critic of the agency, opposed. The debate appears to be playing out along the same fault lines that have divided the two sides for years as they have quibbled over how to position the cash-strapped agency — one of the government’s oldest and most reliable entities — for an increasingly digital future.

The coronavirus crisis has rapidly exacerbated those woes, officials told lawmakers on Thursday. Mail volume is down by nearly a third compared with the same time last year and dropping quickly, as businesses drastically cut back on solicitations, advertisements and all kinds of letters that make up the bulk of the mail service’s bottom line.

As a result, the Postal Service is projecting a $13 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year because of the pandemic and another $54 billion in losses over 10 years.

Megan J. Brennan, the postmaster general, told lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the agency would need $25 billion in federal grants to cover lost revenue from the pandemic, plus an additional $25 billion to update aging infrastructure. Another $14 billion is needed to pay off long-term debt related to a retirement benefits program [a debt imposed by Congress], along with $25 billion in unrestricted borrowing authority, she said, according to officials familiar with the information she shared privately.

“At a time when America needs the Postal Service more than ever, the reason we are so needed is having a devastating effect on our business,” Ms. Brennan said in a statement to The New York Times later Thursday. “The sudden drop in mail volumes, our most profitable revenue stream, is steep and may never fully recover.”

She called on Congress to “shore up the finances of the Postal Service” as it had other businesses.

Democrats have been pressing for weeks to give the Postal Service most of what it is asking for. But Mr. Trump has resisted, saying the agency could solve its woes simply by raising prices on packages delivered for big online retailers like Amazon. And his administration wants to attach strings to any government help the service receives.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, squashed a bipartisan attempt to send the agency emergency funds last month, insisting instead that his department be given new authority to lend up to $10 billion to the Postal Service on terms it helps set, according to officials familiar with the negotiations who described them on the condition of anonymity.

Some lawmakers, postal union representatives and others who rely on the service now fear that the Trump administration is trying to use the current crisis to achieve conservatives’ longstanding goal of nudging the mail service toward privatization — either by setting highly prescriptive loan terms or by essentially forcing it into bankruptcy. That would aid commercial competitors like FedEx and UPS.

Ms. Brennan told lawmakers on Thursday that the agency was already in talks with the Treasury about the potential loan, but its revenue predictions suggest that the money would not be enough if the crisis continues.

Even with an increase in online shopping and package delivery to Americans cooped up at home, the agency could see a 50 percent reduction in total mail volume by the end of June, compared with the same period last year, Ms. Brennan told the lawmakers.

She said the projected shortfall this fall could throw regular mail delivery into doubt.

“They are chilling numbers,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, who leads the House subcommittee responsible for the Postal Service. “The reaction of a lot of my colleagues — their jaws were dropping. It is one thing to say the Postal Service is suffering. It is another to hear these specifics.”

For now, the mail service, which operates under government-mandated service requirements, has continued uninterrupted during the pandemic. Even as scores of its more than 600,000-person work force have fallen ill and some have died, mail sorters and carriers have continued to walk their routes in every corner of the country, in many cases the only physical lifeline Americans now have to the outside world. They deliver medicines, coronavirus test kits and packages ordered online, and could play a crucial role in November’s presidential election, in which voting by mail is expected to surge.

Which is why Republicans want to kill the U.S. Postal Service.

Representative Connolly said on Thursday that he would recommend that House leaders promptly back the new, higher figures presented by the Postal Service, and Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the oversight panel, indicated that she saw doing so as a matter of life and death for the agency.

Unless Congress and the White House provide meaningful relief in the next stimulus bill, the Postal Service could cease to exist,” she said.

Republicans would be perfectly pleased with that outcome.

Republican lawmakers, whose views may prove decisive under the circumstances, remain open to direct cash payments under certain circumstances. Historically, the Postal Service has counted on strong support from Republicans representing rural districts, where the service is a lifeline to homes and small businesses. But it is unclear if they would allocate the funds without imposing reform requirements on the agency or if they would be willing to break with Mr. Mnuchin and the White House.

An independent executive agency, the Postal Service has not taken federal funding in decades, running instead off revenue raised from stamps and other postal products. But since the 2008 financial crisis, it has struggled to stay in the black, weighed down largely by a congressional mandate to pre-fund its retirement benefits programs.

The agency has stopped making those payments in recent years, running up billions of dollars in debt, while its mail delivery business has otherwise remained profitable. Lawmakers in both parties have proposed overhauls to the service along the way, but none have taken hold.

Mr. Trump has frequently criticized the service for not charging higher prices to deliver packages for large online retailers like Amazon — a company he has sometimes singled out in his Twitter tirades on postal issues. Aides have said the president’s complaints often followed critical articles about his administration published by The Washington Post, which is owned by the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

He repeated the criticism this week, as he appeared to reject calls for a cash bailout. Asked about Mr. Connolly’s proposal, he said the congressman should focus instead on raising package delivery prices.

Trump’s personal grievance vindictive politics is harming Americans, particularly those who live in rural communities, who are supposed to be his political base.

[A] longtime congressional advocate of changes to the service, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, recently took over as Mr. Trump’s chief of staff.

“At the end of the day, they have an agenda,” said Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 220,000 postal workers. “Raise prices, reduce worker benefits and reduce services, make it appear more profitable and set it up for sale.”

“The Covid crisis should not be used to achieve political aims,” he added.

The Package Coalition, a lobbying group on postal issues that includes Amazon and other online retailers, raised concerns this week that the strings Treasury officials might attach to postal loans could raise prices during a pandemic that has made Americans more dependent than ever on package delivery.

The Treasury has the Postal Service over a $10 billion barrel, and the Postal Service is on the brink of bankruptcy,” said the coalition’s chairman, the former Army secretary John M. McHugh. “What do you do? We’re worried they’ll accept the terms.”

Laura Clawson adds at Daily Kos, Trump is trying to kill the USPS as vote-by-mail becomes the best chance to save our democracy (excerpt):

What’s on the line here? Those prescription medications so many people get by mail. Delivery to rural areas that the for-profit companies don’t think are worth delivering to; in many cases, the USPS brings UPS or FedEx packages the last leg to people’s actual doors, or to tiny rural post offices. Vote-by-mail, which will be essential this November, is—as David Nir put it—“our last best chance to save democracy.”

Why is the novel coronavirus crisis such an immediate, life-or-death crisis for USPS, a part of the federal government that is actually written into the Constitution? Mail volume is already down by nearly a third and could be down by half by the end of June. But the origin of the crisis comes from Congress—specifically from a congressional mandate for the USPS to prepay its retiree health obligations decades into the future and from congressional blocks on the postal service doing things like online bill-paying, money transfer services, postal banking, copy and fax services, phone cards, notary public services, and hunting and fishing licenses. There are so many things that post offices, which are located in nearly every community in the nation, could do that would help Americans out by providing affordable services they need, and at the same time the USPS would be strengthened. But [Republicans in] Congress won’t allow it.

And now in the current crisis, Congress would have passed a bill including at least part of what the USPS needs to survive—but Donald Trump wasn’t having it, in part because he’s angry that the postal service doesn’t charge enough to deliver packages for Amazon, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, which has published stories Trump didn’t like.

So the postal service’s ability to continue delivering the mail as it has done for hundreds of years is in immediate danger at the moment when, without vote-by-mail, we might face the choice between risking our lives and giving up our democracy.

As I said above, If Republicans succeed in killing the U.S. Postal Service, there will be no mail voting.

Contact your member of Congress and your Senators and demand a financial rescue for the U.S. Postal Service. And demand that your right to vote safely and securely by early mail-in ballots be protected.

Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and call your local television news channel and tell them to report this under-covered but critical news story.


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