I don’t think anyone’s predictions for 2020 have come true. And I don’t think anybody expected the US Postal Service to be the key institution left to uphold the democracy of the United States. But here we are…how on earth did we get here and why is this so damned important? By Michael Delaney.
Trump blocks funding
The US Postal Service (USPS) is nearing a total collapse.
Earlier this year, the outgoing Postmaster General, the head of the USPS, said that the institution required $89bn in funding “to prevent significant service interruptions”. Without the additional funding, the USPS could grind to a halt as early as September (as in next month!).
Last week, President Trump told reporters he refused to sign off on $25bn in emergency funding, essential for its survival. This also included denying a further $3.5bn for election security.
The American senate has now gone off on its summer holidays, leaving the USPS’s fate hanging precariously, to say the least.
This is not the first attack the President has made against USPS.
The video above is from April this year complaining about the amount of money the USPS system loses.
Ignoring the fact that most of the world’s leaders were trying to deal with a slightly bigger problem at the time, namely Covid-19, Trump’s comments are not just ill-timed, but also incredibly misinformed.
Why is USPS losing money?
First off, the US Postal Service is just that – a government service. We do not accuse other federal departments, like say the military, of ‘losing money’. Their job is to provide a service, not turn a profit.
Putting that to one side, it is important to note that the USPS has not always made a loss. In fact, in 2006, the service made a profit of 900 million.
2006, however, was a significant year as it saw the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act being brought into law. As a consequence, the service went from profit, to making a $3.8bn loss.
To quickly summarise, the Act that was brought in forced two big changes;
- The service now had to prepay health care benefits for retirees on a 50 year schedule, requiring the USPS to set aside $5bn per year for 10 years to fund it.
- It put a price cap on the charges the USPS could make, including making it illegal to charge more than the actual cost of the service.
So a combination of new, massive financial obligations coupled with the inability to bring in more money have pretty much tied the hands of the USPS.
And whilst this was brought in with bipartisan support in the mid noughties, it is a situation being exploited by a president who seems determined to finally crush the postal service.
Why is the USPS so important though?
When there are private companies, such as FedEx and UPS providing a similar service, why is the USPS so crucial?
1. They cost less than the private companies. Any increase in cost to a company, is likely to be passed onto the consumer.
2. The USPS is obligated by law to provide a service to even the most remote parts of the country. This means that quite often, packages for far-out routes are out-sourced from private companies to the USPS for the final leg of the journey. Without the service, these communities could be cut off.
3. The USPS delivers, amongst other things, 1.2bn medical prescriptions per year.
A big year for post
Taking into account not just the services the USPS provides, but also the timing – whilst millions of American’s are housebound due to the coronavirus, an efficient and fairly priced postal service is not simply a luxury – it is absolutely essential.
On top of this, it is also a census year in America, which is critical to understanding the population and creating the strategies for providing basic public services for the next 10 years and beyond.
It is also an election year (in case you didn’t know). This seems to be the real battleground.
The US’s mishandling of the pandemic could mean that come autumn, when many health professionals are fearing a significant resurgence for the virus, many American’s will not want to risk going out to vote.
With the election currently too close to call, you’d expect only the most dedicated voters who aren’t afraid of catching Covid-19 to head out to the polls…no prizes for who these are likely to be.
So to ensure a fair election can be held, several states are putting into place a system to allow their citizens to vote by mail. Something that the White House and Senate seem determined to undermine.
In addition to blocking the funding, there are three key areas where the federal government appear to be trying to interfere with the postal service.
1. Keep your friends close – ideally in positions of power
Earlier this year, a new PostMaster General was appointed.
The man selected, Louis DeJoy, is a major Trump donor. His appointment was immediately flagged as a concern by the democrats who could sense that this Trump crony was not a good sign.
2. Snail mail
Postal workers have started to come forward with accounts of key pieces of postal equipment being removed from postal facilities. This is already starting to have an impact on the mail, with thousands of pieces starting to pile up.
3. Wait a minute Mr. Postman…
Photos like the one below have been circulating on social media, showing trucks collecting post boxes from around American cities.
I guess the theory goes: you can’t vote by mail if there is nowhere to post your vote…
It seems quite clear that the GOP are determined to either break or make the service go bust to ensure that a universal vote-by-mail system is not in place for November.
A campaign to save the postal service is gathering momentum.
For any American’s reading, you can use the resources from the American Postal Workers Union to lobby your Senators.
And anyone can add their name to the petition calling for action to save the service.
The USPS is a self funded entity. And whilst its hands are tied on what it can charge for post, they also raise money through the sale of stamps. So if you’re a bit of a philatelist (stamp collector) or fancy getting started, your purchases will help to sustain a crucial service.