How about a riddle to break up your day?
When are you a business that is essential, but not an essential business?
When you’re the United States Postal Service, of course!
It’s not especially clever — the riddle or the idea of allowing the USPS to fail.
The Postal Service has long walked a solvency tightrope thanks to its unusual classification — it’s both a business that must generate all of its own revenue (taxpayer dollars don’t fund the operation) and an arm of the government, meaning it’s burdened by layers of bureaucracy while the private sector is not.
And seeing how history is unfolding before our eyes, now would be a terrible time to rob the nation of this essential service.
But it’s happening.
The economic crisis created by COVID-19 has the USPS against the ropes — and it received no assistance from the most recent $2.2 trillion stimulus package authorized by Congress.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office notes that “USPS financial viability continues to be high risk” because its current level of services and financial obligations outweigh revenue.
The GAO found the USPS’ “overall financial condition is deteriorating and unsustainable. USPS has lost $69 billion over the past 11 fiscal years — including $3.9 billion in fiscal year 2018. USPS’ total unfunded liabilities and debt ($143 billion at the end of fiscal year 2018) have grown to double its annual revenue.”
The GAO also found that the savings from USPS cost-reduction efforts have declined to the point where not much else can be done and trends indicated expenses are growing faster than revenue, “partly due to rising compensation and benefits costs and continuing declines in the volume of First-Class Mail.”
And, perhaps the final nail in the coffin: “Further, USPS has missed $48.2 billion in required payments for postal retiree health and pension benefits as of September 30, 2018,” the GAO states.
To be clear, USPS isn’t missing these benefit payments because it’s failing to be profitable; it’s unable to be profitable because it’s being required to prepay these benefits 75 years into the future.
This requirement, imposed by President George W. Bush and Congress in 2006, has hamstrung the USPS and accounts for almost all its operating losses. And it’s a burden that applies to no other organization, federal or private.
The U.S. Postal Service, to many, is a lifeline, and never more so than when half the globe is standing still and staying home.
Here in the U.S., postal workers deliver medicines, hygiene products and other essential items to those with nowhere to go. Here in Colorado, we can rely on the USPS to help keep the wheels of democracy moving thanks to mail-in voting. Our armed forces have relied on mail-in voting since the 1800s.
And speaking of armed forces — seeing as how we live in a military town — the USPS is one of the largest employers of veterans nationwide. According to Business Insider, nearly 100,000 military veterans are employed by the agency, making up about 15 percent of its total workforce. And 60 percent of those veteran employees have a disability rating.
And while our planet has experienced pandemics before, the interconnectedness we share today makes this situation unique. Advancements like air and automobile travel mean disease can spread much more quickly and widely than ever before.
But we also have ways to fight this disease. Sheltering in place is one of those ways, and many are relying on the USPS while they do so.
Not all of the $2.2 trillion that is being handed out to people, businesses and institutions will go to those who truly need it.
Right now, the USPS is truly needed. That’s why, if and when there’s a follow-up stimulus package, we hope the current administration will set aside a hefty sum for stamps.
Editorials represent the views of the Colorado Publishing House Editorial Board.