Though the novel coronavirus has Americans more reliant on package delivery than ever—including for prescription medications—it has put the future of the U.S. Postal Service in danger. Not distant, far-in-the-future danger, but could-stop-operating-in-June danger. And the Trump administration, which wants to bail out foreign-flagged cruise lines, is saying the postal service is on its own.
“I spoke with the Postmaster General again today,” Rep. Gerry Connolly tweeted Thursday afternoon. “She could not have been more clear: The Postal Service will collapse without urgent intervention, and it will happen soon. We’ve pleaded with the White House to help. @realDonaldTrump personally directed his staff not to do so.”
What’s on the line here? Those prescription medications so many people get by mail. Delivery to rural areas that the for-profit companies don’t think are worth delivering to; in many cases, the USPS brings UPS or FedEx packages the last leg to people’s actual doors, or to tiny rural post offices. Vote-by-mail, which will be essential this November, is—as David Nir put it—“our last best chance to save democracy.”
Why is the novel coronavirus crisis such an immediate, life-or-death crisis for USPS, a part of the federal government that is actually written into the Constitution? Mail volume is already down by nearly a third and could be down by half by the end of June. But the origin of the crisis comes from Congress—specifically from a congressional mandate for the USPS to prepay its retiree health obligations decades into the future and from congressional blocks on the postal service doing things like online bill-paying, money transfer services, postal banking, copy and fax services, phone cards, notary public services, and hunting and fishing licenses. There are so many things that post offices, which are located in nearly every community in the nation, could do that would help Americans out by providing affordable services they need, and at the same time the USPS would be strengthened. But Congress won’t allow it.
And now in the current crisis, Congress would have passed a bill including at least part of what the USPS needs to survive—but Donald Trump wasn’t having it, in part because he’s angry that the postal service doesn’t charge enough to deliver packages for Amazon, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, which has published stories Trump didn’t like.
So the postal service’s ability to continue delivering the mail as it has done for hundreds of years is in immediate danger at the moment when, without vote-by-mail, we might face the choice between risking our lives and giving up our democracy.