Statement by NALC President Fredric Rolando:
The Postal Service is vital in this crisis
At the height of the 2008-2009 recession, more than 800,000 Americans per month lost their jobs. Last week alone more than three million did so. The Covid-19 crisis is both a public health crisis and an economic crisis. The U.S. Postal Service is a vitally important tool for combatting these twin calamities.
In ordinary times, the Postal Service plays an important role in our economy and our health care system. It handles 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments a year – that’s nearly 4 million each and every day, six days a week. It also delivers hundreds of millions of lab tests and medical supply shipments — from blood testing strips and insulin needles to contact lenses. In a major public health crisis like the one we face today, the Postal Service is even more important. This week the CDC is sending a mailing to every American household to give our citizens the information they need to protect themselves and their loved ones from the Covid-19 virus. The FDA is working on a self-testing nasal swab that must, once available, be efficiently delivered to 159 million delivery points across America. There is no substitute for the Postal Service’s universal delivery network.
The USPS and the mailing industry it supports ($1.7 trillion in sales and 7.3 million private sector workers) is every bit as important as the aviation industry, which is to receive $61 billion in financial aid, and other sectors that will be aided by the pending stimulus legislation. The Postal Service, which had already been weakened for more than a decade by an unfair statutory mandate to prefund future retiree health benefits, is facing the same kind of economic shock facing the airline industry – postal revenues that last year exceeded $70 billion may easily be cut in half, almost overnight. Mail volume has already plunged by the largest percentage since the Great Recession and is likely to drop by more than it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s — the USPS believes it may drop by 50% or more this year.
A collapse of the Postal Service at this crucial moment would severely undermine both our fight to defeat the Covid-19 virus as well as the effort to stabilize our economy. Earlier this week, President Trump lauded the Postal Service and its private delivery counterparts for keeping the flow of goods moving at a time when Americans are afraid to venture out to stores. In vast swathes of rural America and economically struggling urban areas, the Postal Service is the only option — the private companies rely on the USPS for last mile delivery. Only the Postal Service will be able to distribute the millions of stimulus rebate payments that Congress is set to approve. (see House and Senate negotiate third Covid-19 stimulus bill and Stimulus Package Three Update: Postal Service Relief)
In view or the Postal Service’s crucial role, it is all the more disappointing and discouraging that the $2 trillion stimulus legislation that is about to be adopted did so little to help the Postal Service. It provides only $10 billion in new borrowing authority, subject to control by the Treasury Department’s Federal Finance Bank (FFB). That is woefully inadequate and far short of what the stimulus legislation introduced in the House of Representatives on March 23, 2020 would have provided. Its postal provisions included:
a direct appropriation of $25 billion to the Postal Service;
a repeal of the mandate to prefund future retiree health benefits, which has starved the USPS of investment and cost an average of $5.4 billion annually since 2007;
the forgiveness of $11 billion in outstanding debt to the FFB, most of which was run up to cover prefunding expenses; and
the repeal of the $3 billion annual limit on use of the USPS’s $15 billion in borrowing authority.
It is shocking and outrageous that negotiators from the administration, flatly opposed the House legislation’s postal proposals. The administration clearly does not understand the importance of the Postal Service, especially now. Sadly, it appears the administration officials involved have put on ideological blinders, seeing such relief as an unwarranted “bailout.” This short-sighted and misguided view will make the corona virus crisis worse and do serious long-term damage to our economy and America’s only universal communications and delivery network.
To both protect the public health and to stabilize our economy, the Postal Service must be strengthened in the next round of legislation to battle the deep economic recession that is now beginning. Congress must act to provide at least $25 billion in direct financial assistance to the Postal Service and forgive its outstanding debt, as proposed by the House of Representatives. Although the Postal Service has not received taxpayer appropriations (other than for military voting and free mail for the blind) since the early 1980s, the present crisis warrants such appropriations now.
NALC will work with all the stakeholders in the mailing industry and the labor movement to advance this relief and other measures to preserve the Postal Service, a vital part of our national economic infrastructure.
The Postal Service, which is provided for in the U.S. Constitution, is also vital to American political and social life. It is our nation’s only truly universal communications network. As we speak, even as the national crisis deepens, it is helping the Census Bureau conduct the decennial census. State election officials are racing to make it possible for their residents to vote by mail in November, rightly fearing the Covid-19 virus will disrupt our democracy.
Finally, the USPS is a source of comfort and a welcome sign of normalcy to the American people. That has been true during recoveries from hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other disasters in the past, and is now true as we grapple with the current national crisis.
All American leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, should work together to ensure that this pandemic does not destroy the U.S. Postal Service, a true national treasure. NALC is a ready and willing partner.