USPS is essential for more than mail-in voting
The U.S. Postal Service, whose fabled delivery through rain and snow and gloom of night is often taken for granted, has grabbed the national spotlight, as changes directed by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy raise unprecedented concerns that it can’t keep delivering for America.
Even with DeJoy’s proposals now suspended, the Postal Service, already financially shaky before the pandemic, is creaking loudly under the heavy additional stress imposed by the COVID-19 crisis. Without a lifeline from Congress, its future is cloudy at best.
The Postal Service projects it will be insolvent within a year—perhaps as early as next April without additional money. Congress must provide it with funding to at least cover its losses from COVID. Commendable bipartisan legislation exists in the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, a Senate bill which would extend a lifeline while requiring the Postal Service to certify that the money it takes would be for losses from COVID. This legislation embodies a solid compromise for both parties—and a way to save the Postal Service in the short-term.
Moving forward, Congress must finally address the Postal Service’s underlying losses through structural change, starting with removing its draconian and unique government mandate to prefund retiree benefits, which has cost it $55 billion and counting.
But congressional action is necessary for more than reassuring the public about mail-in voting, or even for sustaining the steady delivery of essential items such as over 1 billion prescriptions. The success of the Postal Service is also essential to our economic recovery.
From the biggest cities to the smallest towns and sparsely settled areas, the U.S. Postal Service goes the last mile to deliver mail and packages—including food, medicine, supplies and communications—no matter the weather, or how far, or how rural. Its employees travel over 1.3 billion miles each year as the only service delivering to every single person and business in America. It’s a job no other courier can handle.
Just consider the numbers. Industry reliant on the Postal Service—mailing and shipping companies and the supply chain in paper, printing and more—generated $1.6 trillion in revenues in 2019, and sustained 7.3 million jobs. That’s about 7 percent of GDP — around the same size as the petroleum industry.
Then there’s the Postal Service’s impact on nearly every other American company.
Companies all around the country, from FORTUNE 50 corporations to small businesses on Main Street and online, also rely on the Postal Service. Together, businesses generate more than 90 percent of Postal Service revenues which, pre-COVID, came entirely from stamp sales and service fees. It received no tax dollars.
Without knowing that delivery will be reliable, and postage rates will not spike, many companies—especially small businesses whose existence is threatened by the pandemic — may not be able to continue, and larger businesses will recalibrate how much they should mail. Either or both of these outcomes would make the Postal Service’s financial problems even worse.
The Trump administration, however, hasn’t seen it that way. It has previously blocked all emergency funding for the Postal Service, agreeing only to extend another $10 billion in credit (with strings attached) to an institution already $14 billion in debt to the Treasury. That would not cover the Postal Service’s losses from COVID; it would only bury it deeper.
Americans and businesses across the country have their hats off to the hundreds of thousands of Postal Service employees risking everything on the front lines to serve all of us, every day. Now it’s up to Congress to keep them delivering.
Art Sackler is Executive Director of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, an organization of public and private companies, trade associations and their members, and other industry groups which rely on the U.S. Postal Service to do business.