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Don’t destroy the postal service, help it thrive | COMMENTARY

Dundalk resident Patty Flack looks through her mail after picking it up at the Dundalk Post Office last Friday morning. She had not had mail delivered at her home for three weeks.
Dundalk resident Patty Flack looks through her mail after picking it up at the Dundalk Post Office last Friday morning. She had not had mail delivered at her home for three weeks. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Nothing quite captures the spirit of what we want America to be more than the U.S. Postal Service.

Enshrined by the Constitution, the Postal Service provides universal delivery service to people all across the country, regardless of cost or geographic location. It doesn’t matter if you live in a remote tribal community, on a rural farm, or beside a distant mountain — the Postal Service will reach you at a reasonable rate that no greedy private corporation would ever even consider. It employs more veterans than almost any organization in the country, and an astonishing 40% of its workforce is made up of minorities. Because of this robust piece of the public sector, Americans are afforded hundreds of thousands of well-paying, unionized jobs that serve as a step ladder into the middle class for people from Biloxi, Mississippi, to Brooklyn, New York.

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On a more personal level, the Postal Service supplies working class Americans with the ability to send Christmas cards to their grandmothers and receive lifesaving medication from their doctors for cheaper than the businesses that directly compete against it. It also gives millions of us the opportunity to participate in the democratic process through mail-in voting — an especially convenient service today, despite disingenuous Republican resistance, as a pandemic punishes the country.

It does all of this, mind you, without a single cent of taxpayer money.

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That’s probably why it remains the most popular government agency in the United States, according to Pew Research Center, beating out even the National Park Service and NASA.

The U.S. Postal Service is truly a remarkable feature of the American experience, which makes the fact that there’s been a bipartisan effort to systematically destroy it all the more infuriating.

We can trace the modern-day demolition of the Postal Service to 2006, when Congress passed the suicide bomb known as the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. The legislation forced the Postal Service to create a multibillion dollar fund to pay for all employee post-retirement health care costs a jaw-dropping 75 years into the future, a burden that applies to virtually no other federal agency in the United States. This wholly manufactured budgetary crisis was then used as a cudgel to make serious cuts that did nothing to stem the financial tide and made service much worse.

In fact, if it weren’t for this insane mandate, the Postal Service would actually report operating profits in many years despite being a government service and not a business.

Newly-appointed postmaster general and corporate crony Louis DeJoy is now determined to twist the knife further by deliberately slowing down delivery times and slashing pay for mail carriers during the most dangerous time to ever do their job. This means people, who are mostly poor, can sometimes helplessly wait weeks on end for lifesaving insulin or desperately needed employee paychecks.

We can debate if this is all a stubborn Chicago Boys ideological push to eventually privatize everything not nailed down, or if it’s a budding corporate gift to Postal service competitors like Amazon and FedEx. What isn’t debatable, however, is the grave impact a dwindling Postal service would have on the working class Americans who depend on it for everything from cashing money orders to sending letters to family members in nursing homes.

The popularity and necessity of the Postal Service is quite clear, and there’s a fairly simple two-part fix we can implement to blunt this building disaster in a way that would enfranchise the Postal Service to carry on its constitutional mission unimpeded.

To start, Congress must immediately repeal the prefunding mandate that cripples the agency like no other. Returning to a pay-as-you-go retirement health fund, the type that every other government program runs, will take the dagger away from the Postal Service’s neck enough to provide it with much-needed breathing room as it recalibrates amid this growing crisis. Congress must then pass the bipartisan bill that has already been introduced to infuse the Postal Service with cash to cover COVID-19-related losses, much like it has done with gigantic private businesses whose services are not mandated by constitutional authority.

These reasonable resolutions will not only reinvigorate our Postal Service — they will help us pull off a presidential election during a pandemic by plugging up the massive holes the Trump administration is currently battering into its infrastructure in a not-so-subtle attempt at voter suppression.

If we continue to watch the Postal Service wither away, we’ll lose a fundamental piece of America. If not for the Postal Service, millions of hardworking Americans’ lives would forever be altered in some of the worst ways possible. It would lead to more corporate fealty, less job opportunity, and an erosion of our basic rights.

It’s time to send a message to those who don’t want us sending postal messages.

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This is one issue we can’t mail in.

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Cory Gunkel is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @CoryGunkel.

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