People everywhere have had to adjust to a new way of life since the coronavirus pandemic completely altered the world as we know it, and some governments have been more proactive in their approach than others. As some countries took aggressive steps to prevent the virus’s spread — like developing COVID tests early on in South Korea, or passing a monthly Universal Basic Income (UBI) in Spain — several senior Trump officials fought an initiative to deliver millions of reusable face masks directly to American families nationwide.
According to 10,000 pages of United States Postal Service documents obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight, the USPS — in partnership with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a variety of textile manufacturers — had planned to deliver 650 million reusable face masks to every residential address across the country. That is, until the White House scrapped the plan.
At some point during the month of April, USPS officials drafted a press release announcing the plans. In the draft release, the agency asserted it was "uniquely suited” to distribute as many as five reusable face coverings to American households, as Seattle, New York City, and New Orleans became hot spots for the virus. The first of these masks would be shipped to such high-risk areas as Orleans and Jefferson parishes in Louisiana, followed by King County, Wa.; Wayne County, Mi.; and New York.
“Today, we stand ready to deliver, as we have for 240 years, to the American public to help our country combat the pandemic,” said then-Postmaster General and CEO Megan J. Brennan in the release.
But the White House decided against the initiative, The Washington Post reports. One senior Trump administration official who spoke with Axios back in April on the condition of anonymity said they were questioning the plan’s practicality. “It's not clear they have thought through the costs, the logistics of how this would work, or whether this is a wise idea in the first place,” the official said. Another official told The Post that the White House Domestic Policy Council and the office of the vice president were concerned “that households receiving masks might create concern or panic.”
Instead or prioritizing the general population to avoid "panic," the HHS put forth Project America Strong, a $675 million initiative to deliver “reusable cotton face masks to critical infrastructure sectors, companies, healthcare facilities, and faith-based and community organizations across the country." The government then pushed to reopen the U.S. economy, as most Americans were concerned the Trump administration didn't do enough in its early COVID response.
The thousands of internal USPS documents, spanning mostly March and April of this year, paint a grim picture of the Trump administration’s plans for the agency. Over the last few months, the president has attempted to starve the agency of funding, while stating for the record that his tirade against USPS had everything to do with the fact that millions of people will rely on the service to cast their votes in November.
Also included in the documents are the Treasury’s proposed conditions for providing emergency financial assistance to USPS. Specifically, the department requested operating control over the agency before it would agree to disburse a $10 billion congressionally approved CARES loan. USPS leaders went on to hire the law firm Mayer Brown, who concluded the Treasury’s demands were, in fact, illegal.
Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director noted that based on “the president’s public comments, and the actions of his administration, he has a major agenda for the post office — and we see a lot of it in black and white here.”
Meanwhile, former HHS officials have criticized Trump officials for scrapping the original USPS face mask delivery efforts. “If government leaders think this is too hard, how can we trust them to safely reopen our economy?” one former official told Axios in April, adding that if the government is putting forth guidelines that require people to wear face masks, it “should at least provide them for its citizens."