The future of the U.S. Postal Service is up in the air, as President Donald Trump continues to starve the institution of financial assistance. With much of the country shut down, whole industries facing collapse, and individuals and communities struggling financially, Congress has passed a $2 trillion stimulus package to roll out loans to small businesses; and financial assistance to Americans, hospitals, and state and local governments.
But what's missing from those receiving a federal bailout is the U.S. Postal Service, as Trump refuses to help the agency in what could become a massive blow to voting rights come November. Though Trump signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, which included a $10 billion loan for USPS, the Treasury Department has yet to approve it. The loan would allow the agency to continue funding its operations and payroll through at least March 2021.
The president’s ongoing battle with the Postal Service could prove detrimental to American democracy, with voting rights advocates expecting an uptick in legal battles over the next few months.
"I expect several additional voting rights cases to be filed in the coming weeks and months, all aimed at protecting the right of voters to participate in elections and have their votes counted," Marc Elias, the lead attorney for the Democratic Party's legal efforts told NPR.
People across the world continue to grapple with the impacts of the novel coronavirus on their daily lives, and one study suggests some level of social distancing could be necessary through 2022. In that case, voting by mail will be essential in the upcoming presidential election, arguably the most important election in recent history. And now is the time to expand absentee balloting to ensure a smoother election process in the fall, following the mess that unraveled during Wisconsin's primary, where thousands of mail-in ballots either went missing or were nullified.
As Richard Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law argued in Slate, “All the plans we have for a safe and legitimate general election in November depend heavily upon the ability to expand vote-by-mail. Yet those plans would be completely upended if the United States Postal Service collapses.”
The USPS has long played a crucial role in U.S. elections, though perhaps never more so than right now, as mail-in ballots are expected to be in high demand this year. And while both Democrats and Republicans recognize this fact, the president falsely claimed on Twitter that efforts to expand absentee balloting has "tremendous potential" for fraud and don't "work out well for Republicans." But problems with voting by mail have been rare in states that rely on it.
Aside from his false claims that voting by mail is ripe with fraudulent activity, Trump’s gripes with the U.S. Postal Service aren't only about voter suppression. Some have speculated that Trump’s attacks on the agency are meant to punish Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, with whom the president has a long-standing feud. The online retailer apparently receives a deal from USPS on shipping, as well as a discount on stamps.
The other issue here is a long held right-wing preference to privatize the USPS. According to Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, who spoke with Yahoo News over the weekend, the Trump administration is actively exploiting the current pandemic "to push their privatization agenda."
In 2018, Trump signed an executive order that would require a task force chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to evaluate the Postal Service’s “operations and finances,” though his wasn’t the first effort toward privatization. Turning USPS over to the private sector could also result in the agency charging Amazon higher rates for services, giving Trump a win to that end, too.
Despite his ongoing blows to the Postal Service, the president is facing backlash from Congressional leaders and calls to action to save the agency. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently ended his 2020 bid tweeted on Sunday that "Congress must act now" to save the agency. "We cannot allow Donald Trump to use this horrific pandemic as an opportunity to bankrupt and privatize the Postal Service. Now, more than ever, we need a strong and vibrant postal system to deliver mail 6-days a week," he said.
USPS remains a vital public service. The agency has faced an exponential loss of income due to the coronavirus, in addition to years-long financial hardship after the Republican Congress in 2006 required USPS to prefund pension and retiree health costs. No other federal agency has been tacked with similar demands.
Without a bailout, the Postal Service risks falling deeper into a financial hole, and will lose more than $22 billion over the next 18 months and as much as $54 billion “over the longer term," said Postmaster General Megan Brennan. Americans' ability to vote in November depends on it, as does the function of daily life.