On April 11, it was reported that President Trump threatened to veto the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (C.A.R.E.S Act) if it provided grants rather than loans to keep the struggling United States Postal Service (USPS) afloat in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. USPS represents the priority that our government places on public service and care for our community and taking advantage of a crisis to further decimate this struggling body is unacceptable.
The United States Postal Service is enshrined in the Constitution as a core priority of the federal government because it provides a service to the people that is irreplaceable: By making sure that all Americans, regardless of where they live, can be in contact with one another, the Postal Service knits together the fabric of our community.
President Trump, like many Republicans, sees the USPS as weak because it runs at a financial deficit, one that has worsened in the last two decades as we’ve seen an uptick in electronic communication. This completely misses the point. The USPS runs at a deficit because it is not funded by taxpayer money, but rather by utilization of its services– first class mailing rates, postage stamps, and corporate mailers. It does not increase costs to turn a profit because it is not designed to turn a profit; it’s designed to provide a fundamental public service. Similarly, the Smithsonian museums here in Washington are free to attend because the government determined the enrichment of our nation by learning about art, history, science, and culture was a fundamental public service worth the investment.
In the past, the president has railed against the USPS, calling it “Amazon’s delivery boy” , and faulting the governmental agency for not increasing package costs to meet the market, but USPS only works because of its commitment to equity and access. Unlike FedEx or UPS, when shipping with USPS, a letter from Washington, D.C. to rural Texas costs the same amount as a letter from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. There is, of course, work to be done to ensure mail can be received by everyone; the history of colonialism and racism in this country has lasting impacts on access to service on reservations and indigenous lands within the United States.
The Postal Service is an essential employer, providing more than 500,000 jobs annually to American workers and propelling many into the middle class with an average wage of $58,780 a year. USPS is one of the largest employers of veterans and boasts a diverse workforce made up of 27 percent Black employees, 8 percent Latinx employees, and 42 percent women, and positions are accessible to people without formalized education.
USPS is struggling to keep up with the increased cost of working safely during the pandemic. To do business, postal workers need to have access to masks, gloves, and other protective gear to keep themselves and the people they serve safe. Rather than supporting what has been deemed an “essential business” and crucial public service, the Trump administration wants to prepare the service for privatization in the midst of a global crisis.
As we scramble to prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime election in which it may not be safe to brave the polls because of this public health crisis, leading civil rights organizations are building a plan to strengthen our democracy through election reforms, including expanding absentee and vote-by-mail opportunities in all 50 states.
Everyone should be able to have access to the lifeline of mail and package delivery at an affordable cost. Between delivering needed medications, groceries and essentials, birthday cards and letters to loved ones, and delivering absentee ballots, we need a robust and accessible postal service to strengthen our communities in this crisis.