Congressional “Stimulus” Rebuffs Unions, Lets the USPS Go Deeper in Debt, Pt II

(Continued from April 10, 2020. Full article found in the March 29, 2020 edition of Mailers Hub News.)


House supporters

Not surprisingly, the unions’ proposal quickly brought support from one of their Congressional allies, Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA 11th), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s government operations subcommittee.

In a letter to the Senate Majority Leader, Connolly and allies on the House panel pitched for inclusion of postal relief measures in the stimulus bill then under consideration:

 

In a subsequent comment reported by Federal News Network, Connolly stated that

“Congress must not ignore the US Postal Service. Mail volume plummeted this week and USPS will run out of cash by June. Every household and every business in America relies on our postal service. We can and should take swift action to return it to solvency or risk its collapse.”

While that exhortation supports the unions’ position, offering it may have been more to show Connolly’s fidelity to their cause than to say anything new; the unions’ message, that Congress needs to act to help the USPS, is what legislators have been hearing – and ignoring – for years.

Moreover, Connolly has been in Congress since 2009, and has risen to an influential position on the House committee with postal oversight responsibilities. Despite the mutual allegiance between him and the postal unions, the record of his committee, the House, and of Congress overall shows no meaningful legislation to improve the Postal Service’s circumstances has been enacted in the last eleven years.

Post mortem

When the final form of HR 748 was passed, with no direct money for the USPS, Connolly and other union allies dutifully decried their colleagues’ failure to offer the requested assistance. Whether Connolly ever expected the unions’ overblown list to be considered seriously only he knows, but he gave the necessary performance for the postal unions. And whether the unions themselves ever expected their letter would really get results also is unclear, but in an era where appearances are as important as actions, they can tell their members that they tried.

Explaining the defeat of his proposal another way, Connolly alleged it was the result of White House instruction. Speaking to local TV outlet WUSA, he claimed the president “personally objected to any assistance for the Postal Service. I don’t know that it’s a strategy, but I think they would not be bothered by the collapse of the Postal Service.”

Some observers agreed, also interpreting Congress’ inaction toward the Postal Service as a reflection of the White House’s dislike for the agency and its leadership. Advocates of that reading note that the PMG (and, by extension, the USPS) likely fell into disfavor when she didn’t embrace the president’s complaints last year about the prices being charged for inbound small parcels from China, or that the competitive product rates the Postal Service was charging Amazon were too low and too favorable. (The Washington Post, a frequent critic of the administration, is owned personally by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.)

To whatever degree the USPS had been working behind the scenes to get a place in the stimulus soup line, it too was rebuffed by the final result. In a typically dispassionate statement issued after the final vote, the agency stated:

“The United States 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.

“The Postal Service continues to provide an essential public service in the midst of this pandemic. As recently as January of this year, the National Security Council identified the delivery of postal services as a ‘critical government service’ necessary during times of crisis, and the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month identified ‘postal and shipping workers’ as essential to critical infrastructure.

“As Americans are urged to stay home, the importance of the mail will only grow as people will need access to communications and essential packages such as prescription drugs and other necessities. This is particularly true in rural and other areas, where the Postal Service may be the only affordable delivery provider available to fulfill the needs of these communities. In addition, the population most at-risk from the coronavirus, people over the age of 65, is also the least likely to be using the internet or other technology to access information.

“As the Postal Service continues to spend resources in response to this crisis, the national decline in economic activity has led to a rapid drop in mail volumes and a significant loss in needed revenues, and put our ongoing ability to provide our vital federal service at risk. We will continue to work with policymakers in the months ahead to ensure that Americans have access to the mail during this critical time in our nation’s history.”

One Congressional observer commented that the absence of aid to the USPS in the stimulus bill wasn’t as bad as it seemed because the Treasury could extend the agency more credit, or forgive some of its debts, at a later date as may be needed. Congress could also include some form of relief for the Postal Service in future stimulus legislation.

For its part, the agency continues to warn of its impending demise, yet somehow struggles on, ironically averting the postal doomsday that may be just what’s needed for Congress to act meaningfully.

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