© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

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

Because of the coronavirus, mail volume is down, and the U.S. Postal Service says it may run out of money by this summer.
Matt Rourke
Because of the coronavirus, mail volume is down, and the U.S. Postal Service says it may run out of money by this summer.

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.