EDITORIAL: We all need the Postal Service to work

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Flags are flown at half staff at the United States Postal Service in Shrewsbury, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The U.S. Postal Service has survived every war, every flood, every hurricane, every blizzard, every pandemic since 1775, when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general.

But can it survive President Donald Trump and the current Congress?

The post office and its 600,000 employees have been hurting since the coronavirus pandemic turned all of our lives upside down in March. While direct mail advertising and first-class deliveries, which are the main source of revenue for the USPS, dropped precipitously, package deliveries keep increasing.

The postal service serves as the "last mile" delivery service for Amazon, UPS and FedEx, taking deliveries to remote and rural locations not served by the for-profit companies. In these days, that means delivering food, medication and more to people who otherwise would have to go to stores to get essentials.

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That "last mile" delivery service seems to be the main complaint Trump and his administration have with the USPS. 

“They should raise, they have to raise the prices to these companies that walk in and drop thousands of packages on the floor of the post office and say, ‘Deliver it,'" Trump said at a news conference last week, according to The Washington Post. “And they make money, but the post office gets killed. OK? So they ought to do that, and we are looking into it, and we’ve been pushing them now for over a year.”

This animosity meant that a bailout for the Postal Service wasn't included in the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. A $13 billion grant was originally part of the stimulus package, but it was blocked by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said a grant would be a deal breaker for the whole CARES Act. The USPS instead received a $10 billion loan, which has not yet been approved by the Treasury Department. 

The post office is projected to lose $2 billion a month as long as the pandemic recession lasts, and without the loan it is expected to be "financially illiquid" by Sept. 30. 

The Postal Service has been in rough straits for nearly a decade, as electronic communications have taken off and reduced the volume of first-class mail. It also has a $5 billion annual debt because of a 2006 congressional requirement to prepay pension and retirement health care costs for all employees, even those who haven't retired yet, according to Bloomberg News. 

Meanwhile, it both has to fulfill its constitutional mandate to deliver mail to every household and business in the country every day, and it has to deal with Congress when it wants to make changes such as increasing rates or closing branches. 

And during the pandemic, mail carriers and those working in branches are putting themselves at risk every day by delivering the mail and coming into contact with the public. As of last week, 19 postal workers had died from COVID-19, nearly 1,000 had tested positive or were presumed positive for the coronavirus, and more than 6,000 were in self-quarantine because they had been exposed.

Many conservatives are saying this is the time for a makeover of the Postal Service that makes it work more like a business, while at the same time insisting it prepay debt it hasn't yet incurred and ignoring that it is an essential working of the federal government. 

This is a time when we all need the post office to continue doing its job. Congress needs to stand up to Trump and give the USPS the funds it needs to keep doing its essential work during this crisis.