My father was a superintendent of a post office on the south side of Chicago. He was always proud of the post office and the job it did in connecting people through letters and packages. I grew up taking the post office for granted, assuming it would always be there delivering the mail. That assumption, in this time of Trump and COVID-19, can no longer be taken for granted despite the fact that it is the most trusted U.S. government agency.
The U.S. Postal Service dates to 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress. It is the only government agency expected to fund itself. When COVID-19 closed down our economy, the Postal Service saw a 30 percent drop in the volume of mail. Last April, the USPS estimated it will lose $22 billion in the next 18 months, saying that without federal assistance it could run out of money in September.
Acknowledging the vital nature of the post office, Democrats and Republicans agreed on a $13 billion direct cash payment to be include in the first $2 trillion coronavirus bailout (aka the CARES Act). Trump, using his established tactic of withholding congressional payments to get what he wants (as he did with Ukraine), said he would not sign the bill if it included direct payments to “bail out” the post office: “If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything.” A “compromise” for a $10 billion loan to the postal service, subject to approval by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, was reached. To date, none of that assistance money has reached the USPS.
While it may appear that Trump’s withholding the money tactic is aimed at Jeff Bezos (the owner of Amazon and the Washington Post) for the Post’s tally of Trump’s lies (more than 19,127), and its critiquing Trump and his presidency, that would be wrong. Granted, raising postal rates would affect Amazon’s shipping profits. It would not, however, seriously impact Amazon’s bottom line or curb reporting by the Washington Post. The real issue here is 2020 voting by mail.
The president’s attacks on the Postal Service come as it is preparing to deal with a potential increase in mail-in voting ballots this November due to COVID-19. According to polling, 80 percent of the public wants vote-by-mail to avoid the COVID dangers of standing in line to vote. In this regard, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, Oregon, Utah, and Washington allow all voters to vote by mail. California, in addition to in-person voting, will mail a ballot to all voters prior to November 3. Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin are making it easier to vote by mail. Nevertheless, our president’s position is that “The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!”
Let’s be clear. There is no evidence for the president’s position that vote by mail, which he alleges, leads to voter fraud. Fears of contracting COVID-19 are more than justified. COVID is spiking in 37 states, with hospital beds filling up and refrigerated trucks being used to store the dead. The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases (more than 3 million) and deaths (close to 140,000) with no relief in sight.
Dating back 20 years, the Heritage Foundation acknowledged that Republican electoral leverage increases as the voting populace decreases. This was echoed by Trump last March when he said: “If it were easier to vote in the U.S., Republicans would never get elected.”
There will be a second wave of COVID in the fall. A financially strapped Postal Service will struggle with processing votes, causing the kind of chaos that will benefit the inevitable Trump claim of voter fraud. A bi-partisan bill, “Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act,” written by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) can avoid this.
The bill would provide the USPS with up to $25 billion to cover operational expenses resulting from COVID-19, while requiring Secretary Mnuchin to release the $10 billion in loan funds owed to the Postal Service.
Mitch McConnell can kill this bill in the Senate. If you care about the right to safely vote and the well being of the Post Office, it’s time to lend your voice in support of the Feinstein/Collins legislation.