WASHINGTON (AP) – The US Postal Service’s famous motto – “Neither snow, rain, heat nor sleep will remain these couriers” – is being tested like never before by challenges far beyond the weather.
Finances were destroyed by the corona virus. The Trump administration can make high demands on federal bailouts.
Meanwhile, the responsibilities of the service are increasing. A dramatic shift in voting by mail in many states is designed to protect voters from spreading the virus to polling stations. But it also makes more work for post offices and contributes to delays in determining election winners.
Results were delayed this week in Kentucky and New York, as both states were overwhelmed by massive increases in postal votes. Both states now give voters extra time after election day to return ballot papers, as long as they are stamped before Tuesday.
“What we don’t need is more chaos in the chaos,” said Wendy Fields, executive director of The Democracy Initiative advocacy group, who said concerns about unnecessary stress at the post office are only exacerbating the greater fight against voter repression.
President Donald Trump is against extending postal voting, arguing that it will lead to fraud, although there is no evidence that it will. Trump and many of his government’s leading votes often vote absent themselves.
The president also called the Postal Service “ a joke, ” saying parcel shipping rates should be at least four times higher for heavy users like Amazon. But shipping and parcels are actually a major revenue generator for the postal service, and critics say Trump is just looking to punish Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in retaliation for unflattering reporting in The Washington Post, which also owns the billionaire.
Trump has acknowledged that larger political calculations are at work, and tweets that expanding the vote by mail will “LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY”. Nominated Democratic President Joe Biden has suggested that the president’s opposition to absenteeism and criticism of the postal service could help him “steal” the election.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, representing over 200,000 workers, said the Trump administration “shamefully tries to use the crisis to implement an agenda” of privatization, which would eventually “break the postal service and would sell “it.”
Jim Condos, Democratic Secretary of State for Vermont, said, “Our democracy depends on a reliable post office.”
“In the middle of the election year is not the time to see changes in the reliability of the postal service, especially in a year when our country is going through a pandemic and health crisis, which will drastically increase the need for postal voting,” he said.
The Postal Service predates the United States, founded by the Second Continental Congress in July 1775. Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General.
Unlike its private competitors, the postal service cannot refuse to make expensive deliveries to particularly hard-to-reach addresses. Still, much of his budgetary concerns stem from a 2006 law requiring the agency to fully fund the health benefits for retirees over the next 75 years.
It normally works without tax money. However, during the pandemic, the postal service lost $ 4.5 billion in the second quarter of fiscal year 2020. Congress approved a $ 10 billion line of credit for the agency as part of its sweeping March economic rescue package. However, since then the postal service and the Ministry of Finance have held discussions on the requirements for actually providing those loans.
Neither side will publicly say what is being negotiated, but Trump has made his feelings clear. A 2018 Ministry of Finance Task Force also recommended that the postal service increase parcel prices and reduce labor costs. A second coronavirus aid package passed by the Democratic-controlled House in May includes $ 25 billion in direct aid to the post, but the GOP-majority Senate has not adopted its own version.
Meanwhile, more than 3,420 of the postal service’s more than 630,000 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and some have died. While parcel delivery has increased as Americans stay at home, mail volumes plummeted – up to 30%, according to the American Postal Workers Union.
In April, then-postmaster General Megan Brennan said the agency would run out of money on September 30. Last week, Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman and GOP fundraiser who has donated to Trump in the past, succeeded Brennan.
Postal spokesman David Partenheimer said more recent trends “indicate that our financial performance in 2020 will be better than our early scenarios predicted”, although he said much remains uncertain.
“Our current financial condition is not affecting our ability to deliver election and political mail this year,” said Partenheimer.
But Condos, who chairs the National Association of Secretary of State, fears that fulfilling such a promise could compel the postal service to cut back on routine services, potentially prioritizing voting material over regular mail. The pressure has also been in place since absentee ballots for overseas military members are sent 45 days before Election Day or September 18 – less than three months away.
“We really don’t have this whole idea we have until November to decide,” Condos said.
The postal service consistently ranks as Americans’ favorite federal agency, with recent approval ratings of over 90%. The problem is also one that does not break down ideologically neatly. Congressional Democrats are screaming to “save the post office,” and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are among those who propose to increase the profits of the postal services by extending it to banking services, which provided it for decades until the 1960s.
Rural republicans, such as Alaska Rep. Dan Young have also called on to defend the post office. Still, some conservatives say that funding the election day shivers is a partisan trick.
“It only casts doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome,” said Tom Ridge, former Republican Pennsylvania Governor who now heads VoteSafe, a two-tiered group working with state and local officials to head the expand and strengthen post-by-post options. November. “It is very sad, it is very disappointing, it is very disturbing.”
Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.
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