On August 22nd, an emergency session was called in the House of Representatives to vote on a bill that would grant $25 billion in bailout funds for the Postal Service. It was passed by a vote of 257-160, with the help of 26 Republicans. Representative Rashida Tlaib and other Democrats say that this comes as a response to the post office being “under attack” by President Trump and others who want to cut funding from it. Trump claims that the Postal Service does not need additional funding, saying the bailout is just, “another hoax by the Democrats… for political purposes.” Republicans and Democrats are divided over the issue, with Democrats pushing for the bill as Trump threatens to veto it the second it passes. To understand the debate behind the issue, the recent history of the Postal Service should also be understood.
In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required the Postal Service to set aside money for retiree health benefits. While seemingly harmless, the act has become a huge burden on the Postal Service, forcing them to put away money that would normally be used to improve the quality and quantity of deliveries. Ever since the act was passed, they began to report revenue losses and started defaulting on debt in 2012. There has also been a general decline in the use of the Postal Service to send mail in favor of corporate mail companies such as FedEx and UPS as well as other online methods. The situation has only gotten worse since the start of the pandemic. At the end of March, the Postal Service reported a loss of $4.5 billion and are expected to lose around $22 billion in the following 18 months.
This net loss of the Postal Service is what has made Trump and other Republicans such strong critics of it suggesting that a switch to delivery corporations would be more beneficial. Their desire to lessen reliance on it has led to the appointment of current Postmaster General Louis DeJoy earlier this June by the President. Many have criticized this move as DeJoy has never held a position in the post office and owns between $30-$75 million worth of shares in USPS competitor companies with his wife. Some of his first actions as Postmaster General have been to (1) cut back on overtime and late trips— which delays deliveries and slows down revenue, (2) restructure and replace organizational heads, and to (3) remove some mail counting machines, specifically the ones that count mail-in ballots. DeJoy has not given an explanation for implementing the latter, though it may have to do with Trump’s claims about mail-in voting, saying that it promotes “widespread voter fraud.”
This claim is partially true, in that voter fraud happens more through mail-in ballots, but not enough to sway an election. The Postal Service also provides many essential deliveries from individuals and businesses. It delivers products for small businesses, mail to army bases, and of increasing importance most recently, mail-in ballots, along with all other paper mail. Claims over whether the Postal Service will be able to handle the increase in mail-in ballots has been debated, but without proper funding to handle mail-in ballots, it is possible that election results could be prolonged for days or weeks on end.
While the House of Representatives has passed the bill, it still needs to pass in the Senate. The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans, meaning the bill is unlikely to pass there due to their opposition to it and loyalty to the President. This means that either Democrats will have to compromise with Republicans or let the bill die. Whatever the result, they will need to act fast as the Postal Service said it would run out of funds by the end of September without federal intervention.