You've Got Less Mail: The Postal Service Is Suffering Amid The Coronavirus

Apr 8, 2020
Originally published on April 8, 2020 8:47 pm

Updated at 10:58 a.m. ET

If you've checked your mail lately, you may have noticed there's just not much of it.

The U.S. Postal Service could be another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

"A lot of businesses have ceased to do advertising through the mail," says Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., "and as a result, mail volume has collapsed."

He says the decline could be as much as 60% by the end of the year, which he says would be "catastrophic" for the agency.

The $2 trillion emergency bill approved by Congress last month included a $10 billion loan for the Postal Service, but Connolly, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, says that's not what the agency needs.

"The Postal Service is insolvent," he says. "It needs debt forgiveness, not debt extension. And it needs an infusion of capital right now."

The Postal Service's finances have long been in sorry shape, in part because of a requirement that the agency pre-fund the future retirement benefits of its employees. The agency says it lost $8.8 billion last fiscal year.

Yet during the coronavirus pandemic, its services, which have been deemed essential, are more vital than ever, says Mark Dimondstein, president of the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union.

"Just think about: In this pandemic, information is going into people's homes on health. Medicines are going into people's homes through the post office," he says. "Even in ordinary times, there's 1.2 billion packages of medicine," and "just about all" of the VA's medicines go through the Postal Service.

The terms of the loan included in the last funding bill could give control of large parts of the agency to the Treasury Department, and Dimondstein says the Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to eventually privatize the Postal Service. "It's in writing," he says. "That's their plan."

He says the "small-'d' democratic right to have postal services, no matter who you are and where we live," would disappear or be severely diminished under the plan.

On Tuesday, President Trump revived a largely discredited claim that the Postal Service wouldn't be losing money if it charged more to Amazon and other internet companies for delivering their packages.

In a statement, U.S. Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said:

"The Postal Service appreciates the inclusion of limited emergency borrowing authority during this COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Postal Service remains concerned that this measure will be insufficient to enable the Postal Service to withstand the significant downturn in our business that could directly result from the pandemic. Under a worst case scenario, such downturn could result in the Postal Service having insufficient liquidity to continue operations."

In other words, the post office could soon run out of money.

Congressman Connolly says the next coronavirus rescue bill should provide a cash infusion of $25 billion to the Postal Service and forgive the agency's debts, which House Democrats had pressed for but failed to get in the last funding package, after objections by Senate Republicans and the White House. He notes that lawmakers provided about $50 billion in that bill to help the airline industry.

"The Postal Service has been struggling for 14 years, and it is an essential service we all count on," Connolly says. "And if the airline industry qualified for assistance, it is time for Congress and the White House to address their needs."

Without that assistance, he warns, the Postal Service could run out of cash by June.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic could be the post office. The U.S. Postal Service is running out of cash, and advocates want Congress to provide additional funding in the next stimulus bill. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: If you've checked the mail lately, you may have noticed that, well, there's not much of it.

GERRY CONNOLLY: Mail volume has collapsed. A lot of businesses have ceased to do advertising through the mail. And as a result, mail volume has collapsed.

NAYLOR: That's Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat.

CONNOLLY: They believe that it could be affected by as much as 50- or 60% between now and the end of the year in decline and volume. That's catastrophic.

NAYLOR: Connolly is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations. The government funding bill approved by Congress last month included a $10 billion loan for the Postal Service, but Connolly says that's not what the agency needs.

CONNOLLY: The Postal Service is insolvent. It needs debt forgiveness not debt extension, and it needs an infusion of capital right now.

NAYLOR: The Postal Service's finances have long been in sorry shape, in part because of a requirement that the agency pre-fund the future retirement benefits of its employees. The agency says it lost nearly $9 billion last fiscal year. Yet during the coronavirus pandemic, its services, which have been deemed essential, are more vital than ever. Mark Dimondstein is president of the American Postal Workers Union.

MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Just think about it in this pandemic. Information is going to people's homes on health. Medicines are going to people's homes through the post office. And even in ordinary times, there's 1.2 billion packages of medicine or, for instance, just about all of the VA serving our veteran medicines go through the postal service.

NAYLOR: President Trump, yesterday, repeated the discredited claim that the Postal Service wouldn't be losing money if it charged more for the packages it delivers from Amazon and other Internet companies. In fact, the post office makes money on packaged deliveries. Dimondstein says the Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to eventually privatize the Postal Service.

DIMONDSTEIN: It's in writing. That's their plan. That's their policies. And, of course, what it would mean to the people of the country is - this small-d democratic right to have postal services no matter who we are and where we live would disappear or be severely diminished.

NAYLOR: A Postal Service spokesman says while the agency appreciates the limited emergency borrowing authority, it's concerned that a loan is not enough. Under a worst-case scenario, the spokesman says, the Postal Service could run out of money. Congressman Connolly says the next stimulus bill should provide a cash infusion of $25 billion to the Postal Service as well as forgiving the agency's debts. He notes lawmakers provided 50 billion to help the airline industry.

CONNOLLY: The Postal Service has been struggling for 14 years, and it is an essential service we all count on. And if the airline industry qualified for assistance, it is time for Congress and the White House to address their needs.

NAYLOR: Without that assistance, Connolly warns, the Postal Service could run out of cash by June.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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