Among all the workers we consider to be on the “front lines” of the coronavirus pandemic, the ones seemingly getting the least attention are the nation’s postal workers.
Yet the value of the U.S. Postal Service has never been more evident. At a time when most of the nation is shut down, postal carriers are still making their appointed rounds, delivering everything from mail-order prescriptions to census forms to COVID-19 stimulus checks.
The U.S. mail has always helped tie the country together, and its services have never been more essential. Yet the U.S. Postal Service runs the risk of running out of money by September. The agency has lost an estimated $13 billion in recent weeks as mail volume has dropped by a third.
That plunge has exacerbated the post office’s existing financial woes. The agency doesn’t take federal funding -- instead, it relies on revenue raised from the sale of stamps and other products. But its budget has been weighed down by a 2008 congressional mandate that it pre-fund its retirement benefits programs.
“As a direct result of the coronavirus crisis, it has become clear that the U.S. Postal Service will not survive the summer without immediate assistance from Congress and the White House,” U.S. Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney and Gerald E. Connolly wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this month. “Postal Service officials warn that, without immediate intervention, the precipitous drop off in mail use across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic could shutter the Postal Service’s doors as early as June.”
Maloney and Connolly are Democrats and McConnell a Republican, and the debate over the short- and long-term future of the post office has been largely divided along party lines. President Donald Trump has long called for the service to be privatized.
Now, however, is not the time for that conversation. It should be noted that the post office remains the most popular of government institutions, with three out of four Americans in a recent Gallup poll saying the agency is doing an excellent or good job. And it is providing a vital service in a time of crisis, delivering essential goods and information and connecting the country as it has for almost 150 years. Congress and the Trump administration must move quickly to ensure its work will continue.